11 December 2014

S4M-11811 Flexibility and Autonomy in Local Government

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a Local Government and Regeneration Committee debate on motion S4M-11811, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on flexibility and autonomy in local government.

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

I have been a member of a political party now for 53 years and I am going to say some things that are perhaps negative about the involvement of political parties when they get close to communities. First, let me visit a little bit of history. In 1831, there were fewer than 3,000 electors in Scotland for parliamentary elections. Therefore, the connection with the wider community was all but nil. Incidentally, we tend to forget that the 1832 great reform act removed the right of female persons to vote in parliamentary elections, although it left them able to vote in council elections, subject to the property qualification. When we look at the history of this topic, we see quite a lot of interesting things.

Of course, until the Pontefract by-election, which took place on 15 August 1872, people voted by going up to the front, to the returning officer, and saying what candidate they were going to vote for. Indeed, before 1872, the way in which people voted was published. I have the electoral roll for the Blofield district, which happens to be near Norwich; it was the only one that I could readily find. It shows that in the 1871 parliamentary by-election, James Bond voted Tory but his neighbour on the electoral roll, John Bailey, voted Whig. People’s votes were all recorded. Of course, democracy worked in a substantially different way from how it worked once the 1872 Ballot Act came into operation, for the 1872 elections.

That is relatively recent history because all my grandparents were already born by the time of the Pontefract by-election, so a lot has changed in recent times. Indeed, it is as well to remember what has happened in the 20th century. When Churchill lost his seat in 1922 in the general election—at that point, he was an MP for Dundee—Dundee elected two members in a single first-past-the-post ballot, so it was actually a first and second-past-the-post ballot. Even though people had only one vote, they elected two members. When my mother first voted, she had two votes, because university graduates had a vote for a university MP as well as for their own constituency member. Indeed, the university vote was by single, transferable vote, which continued until the 1950 general election, so quite a lot has changed and continues to change.

What effect do such changes have on people’s engagement? The answer is, as far as I can make out, almost none. As regards international comparisons, the figures that I was able to conveniently find cover a period from 1960 to 1995—an arbitrary period, but it is probably useful. Top of the league is Malta, which in that period—without compulsory voting—had an average turnout of 94 per cent. Helpfully, the committee has visited some Scandinavian countries. In the period between 1960 and 1995, Denmark had 87 per cent turnout, Sweden had 86 per cent turnout and the UK had 76 per cent turnout.

In the United States, turnout in that period was lower, at 48 per cent. That is interesting because the US has a very different model of democracy. Basically, all power is held at the bottom of the heap and the states choose what powers to give back up to the top. However, that does not seem to make any difference to engagement, although instinctively I feel that I would be a little bit more comfortable with that model.

Marco Biagi: Has the member considered the model of town hall democracy that is very common in New England, and the levels of participation that that affords? Perhaps he will be arranging another Local Government and Regeneration Committee fact-finding trip?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that some of the smaller communities, perhaps in the West Indies or the Indian Ocean, would be the appropriate places to go. However, as I am only a substitute member of the committee, I shall be left guarding the gates back here.

We talk about turnout going down, but the turnout among those who could vote in the 1945 general election was 70.05 per cent, and the turnout in the 1997 general election was almost identical, at 69.39 per cent. So, what motivates people to vote is perhaps something quite subtle. The high turnout that we had in the referendum might be because people felt that they could change the system, which they wanted to do, rather than simply change the faces, which they were perhaps less interested in doing.

I have some useful proposals in relation to local elections in particular, and I know that the committee has not considered them. We talked about randomising the order of people on the ballot paper. However, there is a much easier way of doing it: have circular ballot papers, which could just be turned around, with nobody being at the top and nobody being at the bottom. That would work.

When I first voted, the party designation did not appear on the ballot paper. I wonder whether, particularly in local elections, it would be helpful if people voted only for people whom they actually knew, free from any influence of party—I say that as a member of a party for 53 years.

I will close on the issue of a postcode lottery, which the committee touched on. I am in favour of variable delivery, which allows for core requirements to be met but does not require every community to do the same thing. We need strong messages that reinforce that throughout Scotland if we want people to be engaged.


09 December 2014

S4M-11825 Fisheries Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11825, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on the end-of-year fish negotiations.

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

When I came to Parliament in June 2001, my very first speech was on fisheries. In that speech I harked back to the work of Allan Macartney, a member of the European Parliament, in relation to localities management. It was he who championed the change of approach that we see a little of in the progress that is being made in European fisheries policy. On that basis, I very much welcome the call in Labour’s amendment for “greater flexibility and regionalisation”. That focuses on some important things.

The very least that I can say is that all three Opposition parties have been unwise in proposing to delete what the Government motion says about our fisheries minister, the most experienced in Europe, leading the UK delegation

“where it is clearly appropriate to do so”.

The motion is not seeking an absolute right; it proposes only that the minister leads when appropriate.

Let us consider the issues for fisherman in other parts of the UK besides Scotland. It helps them to have the most experienced minister at the table. The issue is not simply about, as the Tory motion says, benefiting from

“the UK’s negotiating strength in Europe”,

but about the UK benefiting from the strength of experience that a Scottish fisheries minister would bring to the table.

I do not know the member of the House of Lords who led the UK delegation. He may be an excellent person. We address only the issue of his inexperience and the fact that he works in a very different brief. As far as I could see in my research, his sole parliamentary contact with fishing had been to answer three written questions on it on the same day in October 2013. I rather guess—as I former minister I might say this—that civil servants wrote the answers and did not draw on the minister’s knowledge. No doubt we will return to that matter on another occasion.

The SFF has provided us with a briefing, which I very much welcome and which highlights the adverse interaction between old, unreformed and as yet not abandoned legislation and the new schemes that seek to eliminate discards. It is in precisely that kind of area that an experienced fisheries minister will always sacrifice an inexperienced one.

We have heard some of the difficulties that the pelagic fleet faces, less from biological factors and much more fundamentally from political decisions vis-à-vis the relationship between the Faroes and the EU and, of course, the developing difficulties for the industry in relation to trade with Russia.

The Scottish Pelagic Processors Association points out that restrictive legislation from Tórshavn seems to be designed to distort the market and is adding burdens to our industry. Fish caught in Scottish waters by Faroese boats are required, in essence, to be landed in the Faroes. That is probably not much in the interest of Faroese fishermen because it restricts their market opportunities. More fundamentally, it is potentially restricting our processing industry’s opportunities.

We have seen many years of sacrifice in our fishing industry. The number of boats has come down, although that decline has more or less stabilised, and total allowable catches are going up this year, which is very good news. That is because of our fishermen’s sacrifices. However, where previously that quota might have been used usefully to increase economically valuable landings, it is quite likely that a lot of the quota will have to be allocated to fish that might have been discarded. Therefore, it is not clear that we have a system under the EU rules that will be of value to our fishermen to the extent that a better-thought-out fishing quota system would be.

Of course the catching sector is very important, but even bigger is the processing sector. Many people are employed in processing, packaging and promoting our food. In my constituency there are thousands of such people.

I recently attended a Seafish presentation. I was very impressed by the interaction that those who retail our fish, either as wet fish or in our restaurants, have with Scotland. We want to get more Scots eating this good-quality product, for their health but also for the health of our industry.

The SFF welcomes what has happened in the negotiations with the EU and Norway this year, which is good. The SPPA is much less happy about the Faroese tax position. Seeing cod quota and haddock quota rising is absolutely first class.

The price of fishing for the fishermen at sea is high. My very first constituency event in 2001 was to see a bravery award presented to a fisherman, who in January of that year went overboard near Greenland to fish out one of his colleagues. He said that he was more frightened going up and speaking to the audience in the fishermen’s mission at Peterhead than he was diving off the boat. Little he knows—one is easy and the other one is difficult.

I share my apologies with members here. A rather urgent matter will take me away and I will not necessarily be here for the next two speeches, but I will return for the closing speeches.


25 November 2014

S4M-11664 Legal Writings (Counterparts and Delivery) (Scotland) Bill

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11664, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the Legal Writings (Counterparts and Delivery) (Scotland) Bill.

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

Mike MacKenzie is being grossly unfair to the committee. Only this morning, we had a piece of secondary legislation on food, and the table in the schedule to that instrument told me that corned beef must have 120 per cent meat in it. I will let members go and read for themselves the instrument, which will go to the policy committee shortly. The figure was correct, as it turned out. I would never have known that had I not been on the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee.

John Mason: How can it be 120 per cent?

Stewart Stevenson: No, no—this is not the place. John Mason needs to go and read the relevant instrument. I can tell him that the figure is on page 7 and the explanation is in small print—six-point print—on page 10, if he can understand it when he gets there. He should believe me that it is interesting.

The point is that we deal with the minutiae, and the minutiae on contracts often have profound effects for business and life in Scotland and beyond.

Over the years, I have dealt with a number of contracts. I quickly jotted down the jurisdictions in which I have signed contracts and found 10, ranging from Delaware to Norway. I have been in San Francisco only once in my life and that was simply to sign a contract. I was in the United States for a grand total of 14 hours and slept for 10 of them because that was overnight.

A friend of mine got up in the morning, got the plane down to Heathrow, got on Concorde, met somebody airside at Kennedy airport, signed a contract, got back on the same Concorde, flew back to Heathrow, got the plane back to Edinburgh and was home an hour earlier than usual, but what a waste of time and effort it was to go all that way to sign a contract. This modest little bill will have profound and useful effects.

Jenny Marra mentioned Estonia. I am surprised that she did not namecheck Skype, which was written by software engineers there. That country has considerable things to offer in the electronic world.

The bill will move us a little bit towards electronic signatures and electronic repositories. The Law Society is producing its electronic card, which will go out to everybody in about a year. It remains the case that the card will be shared among people in a firm, so there will not be individual certainty about who might have used it to sign something electronically. The bill takes the issue forward with its emphasis on electronic signatures but does not take it all the way.

Mike MacKenzie: Does Stewart Stevenson agree that the Scottish Government is due praise for implementing across the Highlands and Islands the backbone for a fibre optic broadband system that will allow such technological improvement to our law to take place? Does he also agree that the United Kingdom Government requires to do more work to roll out 2G, 3G and 4G across the Highlands and Islands and the rural parts of Scotland?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I can give Stewart Stevenson an extra minute or two to his seven minutes, to make up for the interventions.

Stewart Stevenson: That would be helpful, Presiding Officer, although I might need about an hour to deal with the scope of that intervention. I note that the Irish Government has this very day committed itself to delivering 30 megabit broadband to every location in Ireland, so perhaps we have a little bit to travel. I would welcome 2G, 3G, 4G or any G at home; I currently have none. It is very important.

I will return to the subject of the bill—I am sure that you would wish me to do that, Presiding Officer—and electronic signatures. Electronic signatures are useful in a variety of ways, as they enable people to sign a document and if anything in the document is changed—even if a dot or comma is missing or a single letter is changed—the signature becomes invalid. That kind of technological approach will give us certainty in the future.

Lawyers are quite reasonably conservative—with a small “c”—about adopting technology. It is very straightforward to describe public-key cryptography, with the appellation of Rivest, Shamir and Adleman—the three American mathematicians who developed the system that we generally use today. In fact, it was developed by Government Communications Headquarters some years earlier but kept secret. It is a system of cryptography that can be described on a single page, but it takes a lifetime of study to understand. It involves the multiplication of two very large prime numbers together and then a matrix formation, so that we can have one key for locking—for signing—and a different, secret key for unlocking. Keys do not have to be shared with anyone. That is the essence of a secure system.

The system is not new. Mary, Queen of Scots used the system; she had a little casket with which she corresponded with her lovers. After putting a message in, she used a key to lock the lock and then sent the casket to her lover. He locked another lock with his private key and sent the casket back to her. She then unlocked her lock and sent the casket back to him. He unlocked his lock and at last he could access the message. The key was never shared with anyone. That is exactly how electronic signatures work, except that instead of physical keys that the owners keep secret we use electronic keys.

As a mathematician, I find prime numbers particularly interesting. They come up time and again. Some of this technology has been described in “The Simpsons”. Most of the team that writes “The Simpsons” are mathematicians, which might surprise members. Eighteen years ago, Homer Simpson referred to Belphegor’s prime. Belphegor is one of the seven princes of hell in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and was charged with helping people to make ingenious inventions and discoveries. Belphegor’s prime number is 31 digits long: it is 1 followed by 13 zeroes, followed by 666—which is why it is Belphegor’s prime—followed by 13 zeroes, followed by 1. Of course, it is also symmetric: it is the same read either way around. Prime numbers are exciting and interesting, as well as being useful for electronic signatures.

There is an opportunity for Scotland beyond what we are doing today, such as encouraging Registers of Scotland to develop a secure repository based on such technology, with contracts held there during their development and people able to access them securely to sign, annotate or amend. That gives us security against the failure of companies, so that contracts do not get lost over the years to come; it gives us security of control and access, with everyone working off the same document; and it could give us significant commercial advantage.

Scots law has been around for a long time. It has stood the test of time. The Scottish Law Commission has usefully helped us to make progress and to bring us up to the mark of other jurisdictions. The debates and the discussions, as well as the information from witnesses that we have had in the committee, show us that we can do more. I hope that we take the opportunity to do that and that we pick up the challenge of secure signatures and encryption because, in mathematical terms—members can look this up—this is an NP, or non-deterministic polynomial time, problem. No one knows how to solve it, no one has yet broken such a key and no one shows any sign of doing so.


20 November 2014

S4M-11598 Food and Drink

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-11598, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on food and drink.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I apologise to colleagues, as I have an engagement in Glasgow that means I shall be leaving before the end of the debate.

I congratulate Mike MacKenzie in particular for setting what may turn out to be a new record in that book that is compiled by a well-known Irish stout manufacturer—the contribution to Parliament that achieves the greatest number of press releases. He is not alone in that particular endeavour, but I think that he trumps everyone else.

I advise Parliament that I am ready to fly colleagues all over Scotland in pursuit of good food and drink—it is never a hardship to do that. I will tell colleagues—as Napoleon asked for lucky generals—that they would be flying with a lucky pilot. I have come off a plane in an emergency on three occasions so far, and on 4 November 1975, I experienced parachute failure. I can experience all those things, but my colleagues will be perfectly safe with me.

However, to the matter of food and drink—the important matter that is before us. There are a couple of interesting points to make. Scotland is innovating in food and drink; it is not simply that we are picking up things that we find lying around and finding a way to export them. Do members know that we are now exporting garlic from Moray to France? We are also exporting snails from Scotland to France, and we are beginning to make serious inroads into the olive oil industry with our extra virgin cold-pressed oilseed rape oil, which was first produced for commercial purposes very close to Peterhead and is now produced in a couple of different places. It is a much better oil for cooking than olive oil; it can be heated to a higher temperature before it starts to break down and it is at least equal in flavour to that long-standing Mediterranean material. We are doing things that people are not necessarily aware of.

A Bank of Scotland survey tells us that 58 per cent of Scottish producers are planning to expand overseas in the next five years, which is pretty good news. Almost two thirds said that they would welcome assistance in marketing and developing brand awareness. The business of the brand is important: around the world there is very good recognition of the “Scotch” brand for our wonderful whisky. As I have said in the chamber before, in India there is a huge trade in second-hand Johnnie Walker bottles, which are not always refilled with Johnnie Walker whisky before being resold. That pattern is repeated around the world.

Brands are precious things that need to be managed carefully. An industry expert said that a brand is

“the evidence of a claim or distinction you make to your customers ... Brands are promises. When they are kept, customers keep them”—

they stay loyal—but “when they are broken”, one loses those customers for a very long period indeed. International recognition for many of our products is important, but it is also important that we live up to those international brands. Our food exports depend on them.

There are good examples in my constituency, as there are in others’. One is Gourmet’s Choice, which is a family-run business in Portsoy that exports smoked salmon and which won the exporter of the year award in 2009. The company smokes the salmon in barrels from the whisky industry—one can actually taste which whisky was in the barrel when one tastes the smoked salmon. I think that that is an ideal combination of the best of Scotland and I love having it on my plate. Commenting on the company’s success, the sales manager, Henry Angus, said:

“We have the right skills and resource in place to succeed in a global marketplace and we have worked hard to develop relationships”.

That is what we all have to do. Of course, salmon and other fish generally are among the healthiest things that we could possibly eat.

The Budding Rose has been mentioned. I was at a Seafish event last night in Edinburgh at which the Budding Rose was mentioned three times. Well done, Peter Bruce. The Peter Bruce brand is doing well. I look forward to the day when our fish products have the skipper’s photograph and signature on the packaging—increasingly, fish products are sold in packaging—which would create an even stronger link from the person who is responsible for the first part of the quality right through the supply chain to the consumer. We want people to say that there is extra value in buying the Peter Bruce brand or in buying from many of the other skippers, from Liam McArthur’s constituency as well as mine: I am generous in these matters.

There are a couple of things that we need to be aware of in relation to health, one being trans fats, which recent research has shown can damage the memory. Clearly I have avoided any of that thus far—or I just cannot remember having had them. It is one or the other; I am not quite sure which.

There are expectations that the industry will create lots of new jobs over the next few years. I, like a couple of other members here, come from the age of rationing, immediately post-war. Thank goodness we are now in a position in which the quality of our food enhances the stature and health of our people and creates a powerful economic driver.


18 November 2014

First Minister’s Statement (Response)


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

Alexander Elliott Anderson Salmond was born to privilege—not the privilege of rank, not the privilege of money, not the privilege of connections, but the overwhelming privilege of being a black bitch. For those who do not understand the term, that is the appellation for people who are born in Linlithgow. The black bitch that is on the town’s crest carries beneath it the motto, “Fidelis”, which means “faithfulness”, and Alex has been a faithful servant of this Parliament and of this country.

Alex was born with the privilege of caring and nurturing parents and the privilege of a free education, to liberate his potential—the foundations of his ambitions for all our people. From day 1, he was a disruptive influence—being born on hogmanay, he could hardly be otherwise. The parties were somewhat subdued on that particular day. He has been a potent agent for change. His life has been and will remain in the public gaze, but not everything is known, so—

Alex, as sons will do, left the family home, and his mother Mary breathed a great sigh of relief as a certain calm fell over 101 Preston Road, Linlithgow. However, it would be a few years before Alex finally departed. His mother, fed up with his still occupying an entire room in the house, moved all the political impedimenta that he had accumulated, in its many boxes and disorder, into the front garden, and phoned him to remind him that she lived a mere 300m from Linlithgow’s recycling centre. Strangely, the garden was soon restored to its natural order, and Mary and Robert had the room in their house back. So, when we read his autobiography—I have the money to buy it waiting here now—we should remember its genesis in that front garden.

Alex’s grandfather was a wonderful storyteller, who equipped him with the ability to construct a story, tell a story and seize the imagination.

In May 1961, John F Kennedy committed his country to landing a man on the moon before the decade was out and to returning him safely to earth. It was not known that that could be done and it was not known how it would be done, but Kennedy knew that it had to be done. Alex comes from that mould. He is a formidable leader and a formidable challenger of the status quo. He is a man who sets the rest of us formidable challenges. He is the toughest boss I have ever worked for or with, and the fairest, and he is a team builder. But, however tough he might have been on me or on the rest of us, he has always been tougher on himself. A driven man building on the achievements of our previous three First Ministers, he has raised the bar still further for our next First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Alex has always been conscious that we are all here—Parliament, office, life—for but a short passage of time and, hence, that everything is about people. For me, two events illustrate that: one from the referendum campaign and one an echo from a previous campaign. Some 15 years earlier, when I was driving him round Scotland—yes, I used to be Alex Salmond’s driver—we came up an incline and found someone lying in the middle of the road with a beating heart but a tortured mind. Alex was first out of the car to help that person in their distress. Our plans for the day were put on hold until we had returned that person to their family, he had listened to their story and offered help. He gave not a thought for his personal safety on that busy road or for the day’s political objectives.

During the referendum campaign that has so recently passed, the most telling moment for me—if, perhaps, not for others—was when Alex met a young man who came up to him and explained politely that he was voting no. Alex did not seek to belittle that young man; he softly regretted the decision that he had made but shook his hand, held his hand and listened to him. If we learn anything from Alex, it is that we must listen, perhaps especially to those with views that differ from our own, however much we do not want to hear them.

Of course, whatever we say to Alex this afternoon, we speak of transition, not of an ending. First Minister’s questions will be different and Nicola Sturgeon will put her own stamp on them as Scotland’s new leader. We will miss Alex’s irritated flick behind the right ear when he judges that the question from the benches to his left is more inadequate than usual. We shall miss his careful checking of the wallet in the hip pocket when he has had a question from the benches to his right. We shall miss his checking that his jacket pocket flaps are out as he remembers his spouse’s commands for the day.

I say to Alex, our First Minister—perhaps the last time that I shall address him thus—whatever the future may hold, take from all of us our good wishes, our thanks and our love.


06 November 2014

Inquiry into Lobbying: Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee

Video of entire debate
The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee debate on its inquiry into lobbying. We have a little time in hand, so if members wish to take interventions, the Presiding Officers will ensure that they are compensated for that in their speech.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Thank you very much indeed, Presiding Officer.

I am very much obliged to the Parliamentary Bureau and the Conveners Group for making time available for this committee debate. Presiding Officer, I might indulge your indication of a little bit of slack in the debate by occasionally stopping to restart my voice, and I have a glass of water beside me should that prove to be necessary. I apologise to anyone who feels inconvenienced by the tone of my voice—it is entirely to do with something that is not under my control.

The word “lobbying” can have negative connotations of deals being done behind closed doors. However, the starting point for the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s inquiry was that lobbying is a legitimate, valuable and necessary part of informing a healthy democracy. The more voices that feed into the Parliament, the more informed we will be in scrutinising, legislating and developing new policy. On that basis, lobbying should be actively encouraged. We are founded on principles that include openness and accessibility, and the committee is clear that nothing that the Parliament does in response to proposals for change should inhibit our engagement with civic Scotland. However, it needs to be clear what and who has influenced decision making; what matters in lobbying is the who, the what, the who knows and the who is affected.

The committee’s work was initiated in the context of the introduction of a bill at Westminster and of Neil Findlay’s proposal to establish a statutory register of lobbyists. At that time, Helen Eadie was the committee’s acting convener and, as ever, we are grateful for her contribution as a parliamentarian to our committees and to the subject before us today.

The committee has taken a great deal of evidence, and we are extremely grateful to all our witnesses and those who have submitted written views. I see that many of the people who have been involved in that process are in the public gallery this afternoon, and I am delighted that they are continuing to engage with the committee’s activities. They are not for the committee or for Parliament alone—

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): Will the convener take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: The convener will do so.

Neil Findlay: Why did the committee undertake its investigation? Who prompted it?

Stewart Stevenson: As I have said, at that point, Helen Eadie was the committee’s acting convener because Dave Thompson was unwell. The decision was made by the committee; the investigation was requested by a range of people, but the committee is master of its work and under Helen Eadie’s leadership it decided to undertake the inquiry. It might be a weakness of mine to think the best of people but I have always thought that as MSPs we must defend ourselves against the worst, and I hope that today’s debate contributes to our getting to that point.

Neil Findlay: Was either Mr Stevenson as convener or the previous convener of the committee asked by the Government to have an inquiry into the issue?

Stewart Stevenson: The Government was very keen for us to do the inquiry, but it was not the only one taking an interest in the subject. The important thing to be aware of is that the committee itself could decide what it would do and that the inquiry was what the committee, on a cross-party basis, agreed to do.

I want to make some progress now, but I will welcome further interventions on the substance of what I am going to say.

The matter is of huge relevance to us all, and we have come to Parliament today because we think it important to take the temperature of members and those beyond the Parliament before we reach and publish our conclusions.

Our inquiry set out to investigate whether there was an issue with undue influence or access to politicians in Scotland. The good news for MSPs is that we received no evidence of a scandal on the horizon with regard to lobbying in Scotland; the evidence that we heard from a diverse range of people painted a broadly positive picture. But—and it is an important “but”—even if everything is fine, are we providing enough information to others to enable them to decide whether that is the case? With additional powers coming to the Parliament, additional safeguards might be needed. In any event, we have to revisit our rules and ensure that they are prepared for any future challenges.

Many witnesses were critical of recent Westminster changes in particular. I am sure that that issue will feature in the debate. The UK legislation on lobbying was not held in high regard by a good number of our witnesses. It was described as a “sham” by one, and another said that they hoped that it would be repealed.

We have an opportunity to think calmly and collectively about whether, and how, to change the lobbying regime in Scotland, and also about what the pros and cons of tightening the rules on lobbying would be.

We found that a good question to get the debate started in committee was: who should the onus be on in making details of lobbying activity public? Should the onus be on the lobbyist, the person being lobbied—which would include most or all of us—or both?

Plenty of people considered that politicians and senior officials should make their diaries public, which, in practice, would mean publishing details of contact with lobbyists.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP): I have not been involved in the inquiry but, although I would be happy to publish my diaries, I think that some individuals and groups who come to me confidentially would be quite nervous about their details being in the public domain.

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a perfectly proper point, which I will develop later in my speech.

Others who came to the committee suggested that publishing diaries was no substitute for a register of lobbyists, which could simply be a complementary measure to the publishing of diaries.

However one captures lobbying activity, the first question has to be: what counts as lobbying? That sounds like a simple question, but the answer is one of the most contested in political science. The temptation is to go for a very simple wording—something like “lobbying is contact with a person in public office in an attempt to influence”. That sounds straightforward enough, but we have to ask what form of contact should be included. Does that definition not make just about everyone we come across in our working lives as politicians a lobbyist? If, on my train journey home tonight, I end up talking about public policy to someone sitting in an adjacent seat, would I, under that definition, have to register that conversation? Politicians come into contact with people in many ways. We are emailed briefings for chamber debates; we are phoned, tweeted and Facebook messaged; we meet people in cross-party groups and at events inside this building and in our constituencies; and we meet people by absolute happenstance. To get more complicated, we read in the media about research and grass-roots campaigns, some of which are begun by third parties whose names, sometimes deliberately, receive no coverage at all.

Which elements of all those types of contact could be captured on a lobbying register, and who should be required to register? In some other countries, only consultant lobbyists are required to register, but the evidence that we received suggested that a lot of modern lobbying activity is done in-house, which means that registering only consultant lobbyists would not capture enough. I think that there is agreement about that.

Other witnesses suggested that in-house lobbying was hard to capture, as lobbying is incorporated into communications strategies and into the day jobs of people with multifaceted roles.

It should be noted that, among our witnesses and those who responded to our consultation, there was not a lack of willingness to make activities public. Lots of organisations made clear that they already publicise information, not least to demonstrate to the outside world, their customers and stakeholders the value of their work. Charities and others are under regulatory requirements to publish information. Unions want to highlight the fruits of their labours to their members and others. A number of public affairs organisations publish voluntary registers and have relevant codes of conduct.

Some concern focused on the logistics of how a registration system would work. Some suggested that systems that exempt groups based on size, purpose, amount of lobbying activity or income, or which placed thresholds on when to register lobbying activity, could be problematic as exemptions can create unforeseen loopholes and unintended consequences.

Another approach would be a sliding scale of information required, proportionate to the size of the organisation. For example, it could require some organisations such as full-time consultant lobbyists to register in full regularly and small charities with more limited resources to register activity less regularly and in less detail. However, the proportionate approach would require us to give a lot of careful consideration to how we would set the rules for such a sliding scale. For instance, should a large charity that lobbies for big Government contracts—as many do—register as much as consultant lobbyists or should it register as much as smaller charities?

The idea of charging a fee to register was almost entirely rejected in evidence on the basis that it would create a barrier or, at worst, a deterrent to people seeking to engage with the Parliament and with Government. Any additional costs of creating a modern register, such as the costs of a registrar or of software, would need to be met from the public purse. As ever, when there are financial considerations members will need to consider whether the funds required are justified and will achieve the objectives of increased transparency, accountability and—the intention of some witnesses—an improvement in trust in the political process and politicians.

We also looked at sanctions. Some argued that naming and shaming lobbyists who act inappropriately would, in and of itself, have a powerful effect, curbing their ability to engage in the future. Others suggested that, for the bigger lobbying firms, nothing short of big financial penalties could curb their behaviour. That raises the question: in what circumstances should sanctions be imposed and by whom?

We heard from some witnesses that there are issues with the existing voluntary register being too weak because it lacks the ability to oblige the provision of information or to sanction effectively. Others suggested that a full statutory register in Scotland would be a disproportionate approach to cracking the nut. In response to the suggestion that a register would never provide the full picture of lobbying activity, those who are pushing for increased transparency suggested that a fuller, if still incomplete, picture would nonetheless be beneficial. Interesting developments elsewhere also informed us. The National Assembly for Wales inquiry decided that Wales should stop short of a register and look at other measures.

I turn to the point that Mr Mason raised. I have tested the water and have reviewed my diary and established a published copy of those diary entries that I consider to be lobbying. It proved simple to do that and to publish those parts of my diary. Members can see the results—if they are interested—at I tweeted about that this morning and we have already had more than 200 views of the information that I provided. People are interested in me—I do not know whether they would be interested in anybody else in the chamber, but at least they are interested in me. I ask members to have a look at what I have done—it is just a personal venture and nothing to do with the Parliament or the committee—and give me feedback. That will inform the committee and help it to see what effort is needed from the generality of members rather than from one of the more technologically literate members—I perhaps refer to myself. If any members want to do the same for themselves in the short term, I am happy to sit down with them and talk about how it is done.

I warn members that, if they do that, quite a lot of judgment calls will need to be made about what is or is not lobbying. I presume that, if a member meets a group with a small campaign in their constituency, that can be considered to be constituency casework and need not feature in a published record of lobbying contact. However, if the member meets them again and they have a local business representative or even a professional lobbyist with them, that will tip the balance towards the meeting having to be published. That is the view that I would take.

Members will note that committee members’ speeches will consist largely of snippets of the views of stakeholders, as they will read out 100-word statements from them. Those are not necessarily the views of the committee members; we are trying to bring the outside into the debate on the floor of the chamber.

This matters to folk out there; it is not just internal navel-gazing. While we debate—I know this because I have looked—live interchanges and debates are already happening on Facebook and Twitter. The committee will look at those after the debate to see whether they help our understanding.

That almost completes the whistle-stop tour of the issues that we have been tussling with. It is a complex area, where passions can run high. We had one very spirited debate between panelists—fortunately, there was a neutral person sitting between them. Members can look at the video of that if they want to see it.

Now it is over to our colleagues in the Parliament and people watching to help us understand the correct balance between regulation and ensuring that the Parliament remains open and accessible, as it currently is. The committee is not set on its findings; we have not yet attempted to reach consensus on most, or many, of the issues, so today’s debate is a genuine chance to influence what we will put in the report and the recommendations that we will make in due course.

Thank you very much indeed for the extra time, Presiding Officer. I found it useful; I hope that everyone else did, too.


04 November 2014

S4M-11008 The Importance of School Bus Safety around Scotland

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11008, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the importance of school bus safety around Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the importance of school bus safety around Scotland and what it considers the important work of Ron Beaty of Gardenstown, whom it congratulates for his efforts on this issue, specifically in relation to bus safety signs and bus visibility; considers that there is a very real danger of school pupils being injured if the situation at present is allowed to continue as it understands that recommendations from Transport Scotland are not being carried out across the country, and hopes that the need to ensure the safety of children across Scotland is urgently recognised, acknowledging that Mr Beaty first petitioned the Parliament on this matter in 2005.


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

Tonight, we are joined by my constituent Ron Beaty of Gamrie. He is far from unique in believing that we have a duty to protect our vulnerable and inexperienced young folk, but following the permanent disablement of his granddaughter in an accident in the vicinity of a school bus, he has been a ferocious champion of improving safety in our school transport system.

I have not been alone in supporting Ron. Members of the Public Petitions Committee, of all political parties and of none, have supported his efforts to improve public policy and practice. Today’s debate is an opportunity to revisit the issue, look at what has been achieved thus far and discuss what we now expect, which is important.

The issue is one not just for the Beaty family, with the pain that it has suffered, nor just for the north-east of Scotland, where we have seen too many accidents involving school students mounting or leaving school buses; it is an issue for all Scotland—both rural and urban Scotland.

Let us be clear: around two thirds of a million pupils make their way to around 2,700 schools each day, and a goodly number of those pupils use a bus. Youngsters are not naturally born with adequate appreciation of all the risks that they will meet in life. Motorised transport in particular presents challenges. Assessing the speed of approaching traffic and deciding whether it is safe to step on to a road are not skills that we are born with.

Buses add a further complication. They are big and are likely to obstruct one’s view of the road. Education authorities and bus operators that work with them to transport school students are acutely aware of the need to protect passengers, and other road users also have a role to play. This debate and, I hope, the commentary around it will help to remind us all of the need to exercise care near school buses, especially when they are stationary.

What can be done to help to alert drivers? There can be good, clear signage that the bus is a school bus. Crucially, that signage should be removed when the bus is not operating as a school bus. Our brains are alerted by changes in the environment. There is the psychological phenomenon of ennui—we no longer notice what we see all the time—so buses must look different when they are carrying school students, and only then.

There can be flashing lights on the bus to break into drivers’ attention, speed limits that can vary throughout the day, and lights to alert drivers to the need for reduced speed. Those exist already outside many schools throughout the country.

In Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen and Moray, a number of steps have been taken to improve safety, and Transport Scotland—Mr Beaty is not its greatest fan—has produced guidance for our 32 local authorities on how they can help to improve road transport safety. SeeMe technology has been trialled in Aberdeenshire. It causes flashing lights to switch on at bus stops as they detect people approaching the stop who are carrying a transponder. After it was established that there was no legal impediment to doing so, much larger school bus signage has been used. Aberdeenshire Council has made it a condition of school bus contracts that the signage must come off when the bus ain’t carrying school students.

Progress has therefore been made and lots of good things have been done by people of good heart.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): I am grateful to Stewart Stevenson for bringing this important issue to the chamber. He is right to point to its being an issue across the country. Councillor Andrew Drever, who is one of the most tenacious campaigners on the issue in my constituency, has put forward the suggestion of banning the overtaking of stationary school buses. Has Stewart Stevenson been aware of that as a campaign strategy? What are his views on the efficacy of that?

Stewart Stevenson: I was not aware of Councillor Andrew Drever’s initiative specifically, although I have heard that suggestion in other places, and it is certainly worth considering. It is not, of course, within our gift in the Parliament to legislate to do that, but I will return to that subject a little later in my remarks with another suggestion that might have that effect.

With a greater focus on school transport safety in the north-east in particular, we have not seen a repeat of the string of very serious injuries that occurred a few years ago. Policy and practice changes may have contributed to that; or the very bad winters that closed down schools and, therefore, school transport and the comparatively mild winters, which reduced weather risks, may have been significant factors.

Either way, the questions are: is there more that we can reasonably do and do we know what to do? The answer to both questions really ought to be yes.

Perhaps the most important thing that the north-east experience tells the rest of Scotland is that the costs of addressing the issue are between nil and trivial. It just takes an increased focus on the issue. Therefore, we can and must do more, but what should we do?

We can put requirements into school bus contracts. I do not necessarily mean the existing contracts—it always costs a lot to change a contract—but certainly the new ones, which tend to be on a three-year cycle. We can make contractors provide better signage—not behind the bus window but outside the bus—and use it responsibly. We can also get drivers to use constant headlights when running and flashers when stopped.

We can do risk assessments and introduce 20mph speed limits where it will help. We can reconsider school travel plans and work with parents on bus routing, perhaps to arrange for pick-up and drop-off points to be at safer locations. They might need to be at different places in the morning and evening for individual kids because the bus might be coming from a different direction.

When I spoke in Alex Neil’s debate on school bus safety in November 2006—whatever else we can say about it, the issue is not new—I suggested that we could use bus signage that looked as if it were making a legal statement to other road users. We could have a big sign on the back of a bus saying “Don’t break the law” on line 1, “Don’t overtake this school bus” on line 3 and, on line 2, the word “please” in incredibly small print. That might give the effect of a legal request without the necessity of legislation. We never know.

Let us try to think of a few tricks that grab attention and make things happen. Let us innovate.

I congratulate Ron Beaty on his tenaciousness in keeping the issue alive. However, let us make sure that the actions of our Government and our councils mean that we keep youngsters alive so that Ron’s campaigning does not need to.


30 October 2014

S4M-11332 Supported Business

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11332, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on supported businesses.

... ... ...

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

The word “very” is duly noted, Presiding Officer.

It is clear from the debate thus far that there is a pretty broad consensus—it may stop at the aisle to my right, beyond which the Conservatives sit—that the issue of supported business is important and is one on which we have shared objectives. If we differ, I think that we do so on means, not objectives.

Let me commend two speeches, which have best illustrated that consensus and the nature of the challenge. One is the most recent speech by Siobhan McMahon, who has taken a close interest in the subject over a period. Although I do not necessarily agree with everything that she said, no one who listened to her could doubt her commitment. Mike MacKenzie made an outstanding speech from the Scottish National Party benches that captured the essence of the debate.

The Government’s motion quite properly talks about

“enhancing commercial viability through business support and action to increase public and private sector procurement”.

We have talked about the quality of the products that supported businesses can produce, and what has been said is correct. Very early in my married life—I have been married for 45 years—the first bed that we bought was from Blindcraft. It was an excellent product at an excellent price, and it was delivered to us. I am sure that many of us have had very good interactions with supported businesses at various stages in our lives.

Why did I go to Blindcraft? I did so first because I knew about the business and wanted to support it, but also because it made sense economically and I would buy a good product. It is disappointing to hear, as we have done, that comparatively little money is available to help supported businesses to market themselves, which we might all want to ponder from here on in.

Let us talk about what profit actually is. In its briefing for the debate, Inclusion Scotland highlights that, for every £1 that the Treasury spends on the DWP’s access to work scheme, it receives £1.60 in additional tax, so the intervention makes a profit. That leads us from the particular to the general. When we support people who require a supported environment in which to work, the odds are that the economics of that will make sense, but if we have people who have dropped out of the system and who, because of a lack of social contact, a lack of income and a lack of integration into the wider community, require more economic and social support, the cost rises. In other words, a profit is involved in supporting supported businesses. We do not have to be moral about it, as it almost certainly makes economic sense.

The trouble is that the position of people who work for supported businesses is being conflated with the position of all people who require any money from the state, who are being portrayed as leeches on the state for whom funding must be cut to the bone. The reality is that a proper economic examination of the issue would come up with a very different view.

Some interesting activities go on in supported industries. I looked into supported industries around the world and found that some of them are keeping old crafts alive. For example, in the town of Sorède in France, there is what is thought to be the last manufacturer of whips—I know that we could all think of uses for whips in this debate and many others—which is a supported business that uses local materials. We often find that supported businesses operate in little niches that are of value and interest. Such activities are going on all around the world.

An article from the New Statesman in 2013 made a few interesting observations on the subject. The first point to note is that we need to be slightly careful about when the reduction in the number of people employed in the supported business sector started. The first round of closures started under the Labour Government in 2008, when 1,600 workers were given the boot. Five years later, the DWP found that only 200 of those 1,600 people had been successful in finding jobs. Therefore, it is a long-run problem, and we should not point at any single individual or any single Government, although what is being done now will certainly not be helpful.

On 4 March 2013, Jim Sheridan asked a question in the House of Commons about the £8 million that was supposed to be made available to former Remploy people to find work or access benefits. It appears from Esther McVey’s answer and, more fundamentally, from the work of Private Eye—a print publication for which I have the highest regard—that it is unclear whether anyone got anything out of that. Most of the money seems to have been spent on unpaid volunteering, work experience or coffee mornings. On that basis, even the money that has been made available to support people in that position seems not to have been wisely deployed.

We meet people with disabilities in our everyday lives. I regularly go to a local cafe where the majority of the staff are people with disabilities; they do not work in a supported enterprise but in a supported environment within an enterprise. There are many models that will suit many people.

The Government and its companies and agencies do very well. I remember meeting Eric Ruthven on a visit that I made as a minister to the CalMac Ferries office in Gourock. He started working there in the 1990s after coming out of a supported environment. He is now a valued member of staff—he is probably the best-known member of staff to people who get the ferry at Gourock—and he received an MBE for the charitable work that he has done locally. We should never underestimate people with disabilities.

I close by thinking about big and small private companies—public companies. There is increasing pressure on them in a number of ways to behave morally. There is increasing adoption of the living wage without legislative requirements. That is good news. Corporate social responsibility is debated in many boardrooms across these islands. We should ensure that this is the next subject that is debated there. We could do what the Danes have just done in legislation on the environment—companies in Denmark now have to give an environmental statement as part of their annual reporting. Such a move could prove useful here.

Finally, I address the 118 public authorities that the Labour amendment mentions. I have looked at the list of the 20 supported businesses and racked my brains to see what exactly the Water Industry Commission for Scotland would be able to buy from any of them. I am sure that the commission is eager to use them, but it has a good complement of furniture that is relatively modern.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab): I think that I made it clear to the minister that I was suggesting a mandate of at least one public contract on local authorities and health boards, which we know buy uniforms and beds that are made by sheltered workplaces. If the minister would like to exclude quangos such as Scottish Water that he knows do not buy anything that supported businesses make, that would be a decision for the Government.

Stewart Stevenson: I am not sure whether I have been reinstated to a previous position, because I appear to have been addressed as the minister, but I will reply anyway. The Labour amendment says 118; I merely suggest in the kindest way that my colleagues in the chamber must proofread their amendments more carefully before lodging them, because the 118 certainly includes the Water Industry Commission for Scotland. I am not saying that it is impossible for it to purchase from a supported business at some future date but, if we were to make that a legal requirement, that would be a substantial difficulty.

Thank you for the extra time, Presiding Officer.


29 October 2014

S4M-11304 Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11304, in the name of Liz Smith, on addressing the attainment gap in Scottish schools.

... ... ...

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

The Conservatives say in their motion that they believe in “greater diversity in schools”. The Collins dictionary defines diversity as

“the relation ... between ... entities when ... numerically distinct”.

In other words, there must be a multiplicity of entities. In my constituency, in the Moray Council area, the future of schools in Findochty, Portknockie, Portessie, Cullen and Rothiemay, of Crossroads and Cluny schools and of schools nearby at Portgordon and Newmill is under review. Milne’s high school, which covers Fochabers and Mosstodloch, is under threat of closure.

The Tories also say in the motion that they believe in maximum choice. Are schools in Moray with good educational attainment being supported by what is proposed? No. They are threatened by proposals to merge, to close and to reduce the number of schools, thus reducing diversity and choice. The proposals will deliver not maximum choice but quite the opposite. They will not deliver greater diversity through reduced numbers.

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I may come to Mary Scanlon later, because I will say things of considerable interest to her.

No educational case has been made for the changes that are proposed in Moray. Nor does the economic case stand any scrutiny. Many of the schools are below the 70 pupils level at which additional funding trips in. If the schools whose closure is proposed do close, Moray Council will sacrifice a seven-figure sum. The decision is not justified by diversity or by choice; it is highly unlikely to be justified on economic grounds.

More fundamentally, there is not a squeak, not a sound and not a word from the community in favour of such change. How do we know what the community thinks? On Saturday, the communities in Fochabers and Mosstodloch in my colleague Richard Lochhead’s constituency were on the march to save their local high school—Milne’s high school. It is an excellent high school, as are many of the schools that I have referred to, with good marks. We are not looking at closing failing schools; we are looking at schools with good education records.

Mary Scanlon rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Just wait, please.

We had a community energised in defence of its school—not quite unanimously, though. The local Conservative councillor, who is well known to Mary Scanlon, was not with the team in Fochabers and Mosstodloch. He was not standing shoulder to shoulder with his constituents; he was standing on the touchline at Easter Road as an assistant referee in the match between Hearts and Hibs. That is an important job and it is important that he gives support in that capacity, but on that day of all days, he should have been standing shoulder to shoulder with his constituents. I hope that in future he will do so. Does Mary Scanlon wish to comment?

Mary Scanlon: It is inappropriate to talk about a member of my staff who has a contract with the Scottish Football Association. I ask Stewart Stevenson, as the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, to reflect on his comments.

My granddaughter is a pupil at Mosstodloch school—I declare that interest.

The only proposals to close Milne’s are from Caledonia Consulting. I am sure that, as an SNP member, Stewart Stevenson will be aware that all the councillors in Moray Council will vote on Monday to determine whether that school is up for closure.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Hurry along, please.

Mary Scanlon: I am on the same page on attainment levels. I have a paragraph in my closing speech on Milne’s high and I agree very much with Stewart Stevenson on the attainment level there.

Stewart Stevenson: I am perhaps encouraged by what I have just heard, but it sounds as if we may be hearing an attempt to outsource the blame for something that the council initiated. However, if on Monday we get the result that the communities have been marching for, I will make common cause with anyone in any part of the chamber to express gratitude for it. I am glad to have given the issue an airing today in the hope that we may see progress on behalf of our communities.

In my remaining 50 seconds I will say a little about disadvantage and where it comes from. It comes from economic circumstances; it certainly does not come from children’s genetic circumstances when they are born. As a minister, I attended an event in Aberdeen in 2009 or 2010 at which I saw a film of a one-year-old child beating with music. From birth, children are affected by the environment, so having an economic environment in which we deny children the range of opportunities that they would get in wealthier environments is not a way forward. I ask the Tories to reflect on that and consider the effects on future generations of economic policies that are coming from Westminster.

I am happy to support the cabinet secretary’s amendment.


28 October 2014

S4M-11065 World Mental Health Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11065, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on world mental health day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 10 October 2014 is World Mental Health Day; welcomes this day of global mental health education, awareness and advocacy; understands that World Mental Health Day 2014 shines the spotlight on schizophrenia and that one in 100 people have schizophrenia; welcomes the work of Support in Mind Scotland, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and its upcoming 1 in 100 campaign, which is to be launched in October; understands that this work takes place 10 years on from the first Scottish review of schizophrenia care and treatment; is concerned that nine out of 10 people with schizophrenia cannot get employment and experience discrimination and stigma; is further concerned that people with schizophrenia face shorter life expectancies by 15 to 20 years on average compared with the general population; understands that early intervention boosts the life chances of people with schizophrenia and welcomes the work of charities and other stakeholders right across Scotland in supporting the one in 100 Scots living with schizophrenia, including Support in Mind Scotland, and congratulates the volunteers in its East Kilbride support group, which has been working locally for 36 years.

... ... ...

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

I, too, thank Linda Fabiani. Let us make the debate personal: statistically, every one of us here has a 50:50 chance that at some time in their life someone with whom they have a direct one-to-one familial relationship will suffer mental ill health. That relates to two parents, a partner and a single offspring, which is statistically what we have as relationships, so the issues will be close to home.

I have discovered only in the past year, for example, that one of my mother’s aunts lived most of her life locked away in the asylum in Lochgilphead. She was never spoken about; I never knew that she existed until I did family research. That was the past and that was the stigma—it happened and it simply was not talked about.

In 1964, as a 17-year-old and before going to university, I very much enjoyed working for six or seven months as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. That was a time when the treatment of one who was seriously mentally ill was to be locked in a ward and forgotten about. Staffing levels were appallingly poor. The world today is very different; let us hope that that is a good thing.

I will talk about a few matters. The first is awareness. What does mental illness mean for the sufferer? Not all people who suffer from mental ill health are self-aware that they have a problem. We cannot do much about that, but what we—the family and everyone else—can do by being aware of that person’s needs is be there to support them when they need that, catch them when they fall and lift them back up.

We need health treatment for people with mental ill health. We are increasing investment in mental health, which is welcome, albeit—as Mary Scanlon correctly highlighted—that it is the poor relation financially and, more critically, as a chosen specialism for people with medical training. That is more critical than money because, if we do not have the people with the skills, we cannot spend the money to help the people who need help.

We all have to be careful about the social interactions that we have with people who have different degrees of mental ill health. However, let us put a positive spin on the issue. Having a different mental approach, although it creates a huge burden for people, can deliver benefit. I will highlight the careers of three famous schizophrenics. Vincent van Gogh died at the age of 37. It is thought that he died because he shot himself. This is not the time to explore why there is doubt about that, but he produced the most wonderful impressionistic art. There is little doubt that how his brain and mind worked contributed to that. He paid a huge price for that, but he delivered a great deal for us, which we remember to this day.

Clara Bow—the it girl and one of the first stars in the silent cinema, who continued into the era of the talkies—suffered from schizophrenia for her entire life but contributed enormously to the experience and enjoyment of others. Nijinsky, the great dancer, was schizophrenic and, as with Clara Bow, he died relatively early at the age of 60. Many of those famous sufferers were in the artistic rather than the scientific or other domains, but one could speak about many others. Let us remember that people with mental illness can make a huge contribution, which is sometimes aided by the fact of their illness.

We talk about stress in modern society. Stress is good in pushing us forward, as long as we can deal with it but, in the complex world in which we live, too many people are overloaded, so that stress becomes distress and leads to mental ill health. Each and every one of us should be watching for that to happen.

An outcome of mental ill health for some people is suicide. Unfortunately, I have been close to three people who committed suicide. One did so—at the age of 18, I may say—because of a chemical imbalance arising from a physical condition. Another threw herself off a high building while suffering from post-natal depression. As for the third person, to this day we do not know why the suicide took place. There was no sign of it coming—it is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.

As individuals, we all have a duty to help people with mental ill health and guide them to treatment. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we provide the resources to help them.


09 October 2014

S4M-11078 Register of Interests for Members of Scotland’s Judiciary

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-111078, in the name of David Stewart, on petition PE1458, which is on a register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Peter Cherbi on his petition. Whatever position we take on its substance, it is opportune to debate the issues around it because, far from being trivial matters of process, they go to the very heart of trust in the justice system. For the record, I am speaking in the debate not, in any sense, as the convener of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee but as an individual member of the Parliament.

It was with grave misgivings that I heard Jackson Carlaw introduce his speech by saying that he really had nothing to say. I wondered whether the debate was going to turn out to be one of those real political debates that are over not when everything has been said but when everybody has said it. However, so far, every member has made an individual contribution, which is very good.

I intervened on Graeme Pearson for a particular reason. I tried to consider when my entry in the members’ register of interests has come into play. I put many things into it voluntarily, as many of us do, because I think that even though I am not required to mention them, they are things that might matter. For example, I have declared a shareholding in a major bank voluntarily, although it is below the level that requires to be registered, as that touches on lots of things.

When we talk about the interests and connections that a judge might have that would cause recusal, I suspect—but cannot prove at this stage—that finance would be the least of them. I would guess that such interests will almost certainly be relationships, membership of clubs and attendance at events.

David Stewart: As always, the member is correct. The 14 recusals so far have been, by and large, about relationships—in other words, a sheriff knows a witness. The member is right to suggest that there have been very few financial issues involved in those 14 recusals.

Stewart Stevenson: I am obliged for that. I did not know that, but the committee convener has put flesh on the bones of my assumption. We will see how it pans out when there are more recusals.

Of necessity, we cannot anticipate and put in a register everything of that character that will come up, or our whole lives would have to be on the register. I have been pursuing genealogical research into my family tree for more than 50 years and have 4,600 people in my family tree. How could I put them all on the register meaningfully? We must be careful, therefore, not to imagine that this is the silver bullet.

John Wilson: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I want to cover one or two things. If possible, I will come back to Mr Wilson.

The issue in respect of judges is not new. Clause 19 of the Union with England Act 1707, which is one of the bigger clauses in the act, is about the appointment of judges, and it states:

“That no Writer to the Signet be capable to be admitted a Lord of the Session unless he undergo a private and publick Tryal on the Civil Law before the Faculty of Advocats and be found by them qualified for the said Office”.

Worrying about whom we appoint as judges is not new.

That takes us to the heart of the matter. The Romans had a saying: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”—who will guard the guards? If judges misbehave or do not come up to the required standard, how do we deal with that? Inevitably, there must be a judicial process exercised by whomsoever grips that one.

We have to appoint the right people, because I do not think that we can prescribe and describe all the circumstances that may touch on their ability to make decisions. That is not to say that having a register of financial interests would be without value; I just do not want colleagues to imagine that it would really do much more than scratch the surface of the issue.

We all have interests. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth set out a budget today. Will he buy a house in the future and, therefore, be affected by the decisions that he has brought to Parliament on taxing transactions on housing? The answer is, of course, yes. The real test is whether he is doing anything that does other than affect the generality of people—he must not instead do things that affect him or a particular group of which he is a member. That is the kind of test that judges must have in their mind at all times.

I close, Presiding Officer, by saying—I encourage Lord Gill and his successors to think about recalibrating their relationship with Parliament. However, when my colleague Joan McAlpine talked about being a journalist, I immediately reflected that journalists are entitled to, and properly do—keep their sources secret. Therefore, not everything can be in the public domain. Ultimately, we have to choose the right people. We have to trust them, and we have to treat them extremely harshly if that trust is not fulfilled.


02 October 2014

S4M-11048 Food (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11048, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Food (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

It is a great privilege to represent the people of the north-east of Scotland, and of course it allows me to indulge my palate and pamper my digestion.

As I look across my constituency, I can eat smoked salmon from Portsoy that has been smoked using redundant whisky barrels from the local whisky industry with a variety of flavours. Is that not wonderful? I can go to my supermarket—I can go to any supermarket in these islands—and buy a ready meal that has been produced in Fraserburgh to high standards. I can eat haddocks that have come from Peterhead, and I can eat excellent beef, lamb and other meats—and increasingly the greengrocer has been supplanted by the butcher across my constituency.

Perhaps what I particularly enjoy is to go to Whitehills and buy, for a pound, the Cullen skink Scotch pie, which, popped in the microwave, under the grill or in the oven, is the most delicious Scotch pie people will ever have in their lives. If, perchance, the shop there is shut, I can go to the chip shop where Billy Gatt serves excellent fish and chips. I know that it is excellent because he also has a fishing boat that provides the fish. In the north-east of Scotland, we can do extremely well.

Bob Doris: I know that we have some time in hand, Presiding Officer, so I hope that you do not mind me making this intervention: does the member ever bring some of that produce to the Scottish Parliament?

Stewart Stevenson: I will take orders later. Downies of Whitehills will be delighted. I will say to members that they can go online and Downies will send orders to them. I genuinely encourage members to do that. The pie is superb.

For tonight’s tea, I will have a boiled egg from a chicken that is kept in an Edinburgh garden. A friend gave me the egg two nights ago.

Not all outcomes of consuming our excellent Scottish produce are entirely predictable. Once, as a very young lad, I was so attracted to the Victoria plums growing in our garden that the doctor had to be called because I had turned a rather delicate shade of purple—the plums were found to be the cause.

Richard Simpson talked about the demise of porridge. It has revived. I was brought up in Cupar in Fife, and Scott’s Porage Oats were produced on the doorstep in Cupar. Scott’s now produces excellent microwave porridge—it takes two minutes in the microwave and it has a little bit of soya in it to stop it boiling over. It is well worth trying. There are other suppliers; I do not focus just on that one—I hope that I have not cawed the feet from under my colleague who represents North East Fife—but porridge is still there and it is excellent. I have it every single day of my life, often with fruit, particularly Scottish berries.

We have talked about how difficult it is to cook. I was in the boy scouts—I will not be alone in that regard—and I started my cooking career there without a single implement of any kind: I threw an onion into a fire. I waited until it was really charred, then fished it out, peeled off all the burnt bits and was left with a semi-cooked onion that I could chew on. That was really very good for you, if not very good for your love life, but there we are. I can see looks of horror from members around the chamber. We moved on to wrapping potatoes in tin foil and throwing them in the fire; we could make baked potatoes without any implements.

Seriously, though, colleagues, let us show our youngsters that they can make a start in the business of cooking with the simplest of resources by just using what is to hand. What I described sounds funny, but it got the idea into me that I could cook. I hope that the FSS will do some work in that area, and I say to Jayne Baxter that people do not necessarily require any equipment in order to cook.

Let us have a wee think about some of the things that happen in our communities, particularly in rural areas. There is a lot of home-made produce—for example, jams and scones—found at coffee mornings, and home-made soup and sweets are a particular feature of life in the north-east. When we set up a regulatory regime, it is very important that we do not end up in a position whereby the sale of home-made food products becomes difficult. The vote in the recent referendum and in all elections in my area takes place in the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute hall at Hilltown, in the middle of nowhere, but the WRI has wonderful strawberry teas and so on there. Let us be careful that we do not do anything that might compromise that kind of voluntary activity.

There have been quite a lot of references to the quality of the Scottish food product. Unintended side-effects sometimes come from certain actions, and I refer particularly to the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915. That act was brought forward at the behest of Lloyd George to restrict the supply of spirits. They were kept in bonds for three years so that those in military towns and factories would have less spirits available and that sobriety would rule and productivity would rise.

That is neither here nor there, though, because the reality is that the 1915 act eliminated cheap rotgut whisky from the offering and laid the foundations for the export industry that is an important part of our economy to this day. Indeed, some brands of whisky still have the information on their label that they are

“bottled ... under British Government supervision.”

That all stems from the 1915 act. Therefore, although it drove up the cost of whisky and created a certain set of problems, it ended up creating an industry with a worldwide reputation. As my intervention on Bob Doris illustrated, that industry is much copied, so we need to protect it very hard indeed. Claire Baker in particular raised that issue.

I suggest that the new FSS—food standards Scotland—has a role to play that I am not sure that I have seen clearly articulated in the work that has been done on the subject so far: it is how the FSS will respond to innovation in the food sector. We will not stand still in that regard, because if we do not move forward and continue to innovate, others will outcompete us.

I therefore think that the FSS must have more than simply a duty to regulate; it must also have an element of a duty to help and assist. In other words, as with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency now, it cannot just knock on someone’s door and tell them that they have a problem; it must work with people in the industry to help them develop a solution to the problem and take it away and share it with others in order to help them. That is one little point that the minister and others who are involved in the work on the FSS might care to think about.

I must say that I envy the minister because I have a suspicion that he will find himself visiting food producers in the course of his work, as I did when I was a minister. Perhaps he has done so already. When I was a minister, I got taken to a community garden in Monimail, which is in my colleague’s North East Fife constituency, where I was presented with a basket of fresh organic vegetables that had been harvested that day. The taste of that when I took it home was such that my wife said, “Where did you get this? Can you get some more?”

I regret that, as is usual, MSPs are not allowed to be appointed to the board of the new body, because I foresee the position of board member being greatly sought as they will be so close to the wonderful food that we produce in Scotland.

Like others, I am happy to see the bill brought to Parliament. I look forward to the debate here on in, and I will support the bill every inch and every bite of the way.


01 October 2014

S4M-11029 United Nations Climate Summit 2014

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11029, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the United Nations climate summit 2014.

... ... ...

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

I do not want to dwell on this at great length, but it would be helpful if the Labour Party read the Government’s motion, which merely refers to

“devolved powers to give Scotland a ... voice on the international stage”.

We are almost unique, because the Catalans have a constitutional right to be part of the Spanish delegation, the Flemings have a constitutional right to be part of the Belgian delegation, the Italian provinces have a constitutional right to be part of the Italian delegation—and I can keep going. However, when the Labour Government was in power at Westminster, Gordon Brown expressly forbade the Scottish ministers and their delegation from being inside the conference hall. Thanks to the Maldives, we were able to get a temporary seat in the hall and network with the appropriate people. All we ask for is parity with other substates around the world, and that is all the motion says.

However, let us talk about the substantive issue before us, because I hope and believe that there is continuing consensus on the need to tackle climate change. I want to rely on a definition of the environment that does not limit it to the natural world but includes the surroundings and conditions in which a person lives or operates. The ethics of the effect on individuals around the world is a very important part of the debate on climate change. Developing countries in particular pay the price for our climate profligacy. When I say our climate profligacy, I encompass all the developed world in that description, including Scotland, but it is by no means limited to Scotland.

We have heard reference to Mary Robinson, a good friend to action on climate change and a good friend to Scotland. She has said that there is substantial agreement among Governments that climate change is undermining human rights. I look in particular at what happens in Africa in that regard, particularly the gender effect of climate change. In Africa, 70 to 80 per cent of the farmers are females. Mary Robinson has said:

“Women on the whole don’t get agriculture training. And they’re having to learn now to diversify their crops, to have seeds that can survive in drought or survive in waterlogged [conditions], and so there’s a disconnect between even the donor community for this agricultural training, mainly focusing on men, and who’s [actually doing the farming].”

That is the price that is being paid by people in poverty in many countries in Africa. I hope that in our international engagement, whatever its character and whatever opportunities exist for it, we will be able to pursue that gender inequality in particular, because the effects of that gap between men and women are very substantial.

I wish the minister extremely well in Lima. I have not been there since 1980, when conditions in Lima were far from ideal for an international conference. There were burning barricades round the outside of the city, and the taxi that we were travelling in at one point actually picked up a bullet—I survived by two feet. I hope that the minister has a more satisfactory visit to Lima and that we can continue to tell the message of building on the 29.9 per cent reduction in our emissions over the past 14 years and that we continue to lead by example and articulate the reality of the economic opportunities from tackling what is a moral problem.


25 September 2014

S4M-10988 Accessible Tourism

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-10988, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on accessible tourism.

... ... ...

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

I will kind of disagree with everybody who has spoken so far in the debate, because we have been utterly without ambition in our contributions, and I intend to remedy that in my seven minutes or so.

We have just heard from Rob Gibson, who said that

“we are not there yet.”

However, nobody has described what “there” is. Nobody has said what the world would look like if we had a blank canvas and we drew it anew. The reality is that the world that we all seek is one in which there are no special facilities for people with special needs or disabilities, not because we do not provide for them but because every facility meets their needs and everybody uses them.

Is that hopelessly ambitious? Not necessarily. Those who have travelled on a class 170 train on our railways—they are the trains that are mostly used between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so many members might have done that—will know that the toilets are disabled capable. They are not disabled toilets, as we all use them. Why should that not be the case everywhere?

Dennis Robertson: Will Mr Stevenson take a brief intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will in a minute or two, but I want to say a little more first.

We have spent far too much time focusing on people’s inabilities and not enough time on realising people’s capabilities that we currently do not provide for. I will give a few examples. A colleague that I used to work with was registered blind and his visual acuity was, in essence, restricted to being able to distinguish light from dark, yet one of his hobbies was flying gliders. He did not do it on his own, but he was able to fly gliders. Was that not stepping up to something ambitious?

Do members know that it is possible for people to get a private pilots licence when they have only one eye and they cannot hear? Why should not more people who have only one eye and no hearing get that pilots licence? Why do we not have cookery courses, or gardening courses, for people with a range of shortcomings in sight, hearing or touch? Why should not holidays for people with some restricted capabilities also be holidays for their carers? Taking on holiday another team of carers would double the economic benefit and the benefit to individuals.

When we get away from the ghettoisation of some members of our community and we are all the same and all accessing the same facilities, that will be the real triumph.

Dennis Robertson: The gold standard was spoken about earlier by Nanette Milne and Jamie Hepburn in relation to Crathie Opportunity Holidays, whose chalets are fully accessible not only to people with mobility or sensory impairments but to people who have no mobility or sensory impairments whatsoever. The beauty of such a facility is that it shows that the gold standard can happen, because it is fully accessible to all regardless of need.

Stewart Stevenson: Delightful, excellent and a model for everywhere, but we succeed only when everywhere is like that. I do not think that we are setting our ambition high enough. Of course, in reality we can probably never realise every aspect of that ambition. However, if we aim for the highest possible standard and drop a little bit short, is that not better than aiming for mediocrity and succeeding? I say to colleagues around the chamber that that is the key message.

There are a few other things that have not been mentioned. There is a range of sensory deprivations that people might have and ways in which we might stimulate the senses. That might particularly be the case for people with a degree of mental ill health, who might benefit from being able to go into a garden and just listen to the bumblebees gathering the pollen from the flowers. As someone without any particular needs, I love doing that. There was a garden for smells in Aberdeen at one stage—I do not know whether it is still there—which people with particular needs felt were interesting.

In my intervention on the minister, I talked about the need to consider people who are suffering ill health, whether it is temporary or permanent, and who are unable to get insurance to travel internationally and are experiencing some limitations. We must include those people. That means, for example, that they need to have confidence that they can get their specialist medicines if they need them in, perhaps, Acharacle or some more distant part of Scotland. We need to ensure that that happens and that local medical people can get access to their records if they are required in order to give confidence to the people concerned that that will be possible.

Let us not underrate the ambition of people who have apparent restrictions. A great event—I have not heard of it for a wee while—was the Grampian Society for the Blind racetrack day, when blind people drove around a racetrack. Someone sat beside them saying “Left”, “Right”, “Slow down” and occasionally “SLOW DOWN!” That was great excitement for people who are blind. Of course, us sighted people got blindfolds and drove around the track blind as well, and we were not nearly as fast as the people who had no sight at all.

I think, too, of Evelyn Glennie, who plays in an orchestra and yet has no hearing. Why should we not encourage people who have no hearing to follow Evelyn Glennie’s example and have a holiday playing in an orchestra and learning an instrument? We have got to use every means to create the opportunity for people to extend their experience and capabilities and test their limits. That applies to us all, by the way. This is not a ghetto issue, but a matter for all of us. That is what life is about. It is about grabbing it by the throat and trying new things. We must create a society and a world in which that is possible.

We will triumph when there are no disabled signs visible anywhere. We will triumph when everybody is treated equally and has equal opportunity. It may not be possible, but it is about time that we started to think in terms of trying.


S4M-10672 Hydroelectric Dams and Tunnels (Contribution of Building Workers)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-10672, in the name of Annabelle Ewing, on remembering the contribution of those who built the dams and tunnels. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes plans by Scottish and Southern Energy to develop a new state-of-the-art visitor centre at Pitlochry Dam and salmon ladder; recognises the contribution that this and other hydroelectric dams and tunnels throughout Scotland can make as tourist attractions as well as their primary function contributing to Scotland’s renewable electricity generation; respects the contribution made by the men, of many nationalities, who built the dams and tunnels, such as the Lednock “Tunnel Tigers”, who set a world record by tunnelling 557 feet in seven days in 1955 while working on the St Fillans section of the Breadalbane Hydro-Electric scheme; further recognises that this was hard, dangerous work and that a number of men lost their lives and countless others experienced injury or illness that affected them for the rest of their lives; understands that some of the public visitor information boards list several nationalities of workers in the tunnels but make no reference to Irish workers, and looks forward to the new visitor centre properly reflecting the contributions of all of the men who built the dams and tunnels.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I congratulate my colleague Annabelle Ewing on lodging the motion and giving us time to debate the important matters that it raises.

Like others, I have connections with the issue, which are various. Among the many jobs that I have had, I have never worked on a hydro scheme or in a tunnel—except when I was around 10 or 11, when we used to build tunnels with a former tunneller from a Stalag Luft prisoner-of-war camp. However, that was a very different thing that is not to be compared at all with what we are talking about.

As a family, we used to camp regularly at Ardgualich farm, which is just below the Queen’s view on Loch Tummel. One of the highlights of all our visits there was the salmon ladder. My father, my brother and I were enthusiastic brown-trout fishermen, and to gaze in awe at the big brother—the salmon—was well worth doing. We aspired to catch it, but that would have required us to pay out money for a licence, or to find some other way of being able to fish for salmon, which we would not have contemplated.

The building of dams and tunnels is a substantial engineering issue. We sometimes forget how much the Victorians achieved in their engineering. For example, we should consider their achievement in building the Union canal—a topical name—which traverses the whole of central Scotland with a rise and fall of no more than 4 inches.

The Victorians, in building their tunnels, bridges and cofferdams, developed an impressive set of technologies. Some of the challenges involved in such work are quite substantial. The adiabatic lapse rate means that, for every 1,000 feet that one goes down, the temperature rises by 1.98° and the barometric pressure rises by 33 millibars. In addition, one is exposed to the release of methane in underground workings. There is a wide range of natural challenges, to which we can add the challenge that Richard Simpson mentioned: the dust from such work is perfectly contained in a closed environment for those who are working to inhale, to the substantial detriment to their health.

When the Lednock tunnel tigers tunnelled 557 feet in a week, it was a huge achievement. They were able to do that perhaps because the rock in the area through which they were tunnelling was comparatively soft, but that would increase the risk of roof fall and people being killed as a result. It is unlikely that the tunnellers were drilling through granite at that rate of knots. However, those are formidable achievements that we can admire from a distance.

Like other members, I have a connection with the benefits of electricity. My wife lived in a council house a mere 6 miles out on the main road down to Fort William from Inverness, and was at secondary school before the household got electricity. It came, of course, from the work of the hydro. To this day, the very large oil lamp that used to illuminate my wife’s house and by which she did her early studying when she was at school adorns our living room. It is a very impressive piece of kit, at about two and a half feet tall.

The Irish and other workers—including Dr Simpson, as we now know—achieved much in building our dams and tunnels and contributing to our having one of the most green sources of electricity quite early in the development of the idea that that was a good thing. More fundamentally, getting electricity into the hills and glens is a substantial achievement that I am delighted that we are able to celebrate today. I look forward to visiting the new facilities, which will tell the tale again in a modern context and perhaps redress the omission, in particular, of the Irish navvies and the others who made such a big contribution.


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