19 August 2014

S4M-10783 Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10783, in the name of Dennis Robertson, on the Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Like others, I congratulate Dennis Robertson on bringing forward the bill, which I am sure is going to be successful at 17:50.

As a bill, it is perhaps a return to the way in which the old Scots Parliament legislated. The Common Good Act 1491 was a mere four lines long. Dennis Robertson’s bill has the clarity in conception, the purity of purpose and the economy of expression that is contained in a mere four lines in the Common Good Act. Of course, the member’s bill process in this Parliament lends itself to tightly focused and clearly expressed and articulated pieces of legislation. I think that others might usefully learn from that process, which is open to all, even if Sandra White may be one of those who are disappointed.

The core of the Disabled Persons’ Parking Badges (Scotland) Bill is to improve life for people with some disability that requires them to have help with parking. We need to think in terms of the dignity of the people who have a disability. My experience of that was in the early 1970s when a couple of colleagues who were blind were able, for the very first time, to receive their bank statements in Braille. Up to that point other people had had to read their bank statements to them, and that was a loss of dignity because their confidential information had perforce to be shared with others.

By the same token, when we ensure that there is adequate parking at the end of what may be an essential journey or a leisure journey—it is not for us to decide—and an actual parking place for someone who needs it because they are disabled, we confer upon that person the dignity that we are all entitled to expect. I think that the bill is excellent because it ensures that we share more widely the dignity to which we are all entitled.

There has been a bit of discussion about the powers of the enforcement officers and the matter of a uniform. In 1968, my summer job as a student was as a water bailiff. I had a warrant card, I could arrest people and I had the untrammelled right of entry into any premises without cause shown, but I had no uniform. That had been the case for water bailiffs for a very long time. Such people can have powers without having a uniform and they can be justly provided, and people were used to the idea that water bailiffs did not have uniforms. The difference in this case, of course, is that enforcement officers will be new. We therefore need to have some tact and diplomacy in the early days in which they operate.

Quite properly, Inclusion Scotland has focused on the potential for enforcement officers, traffic wardens and policemen to confiscate blue badges unnecessarily and inappropriately. I think that Inclusion Scotland has a valid point. That is why, in the introduction of an enforcement regime that will contribute enormously to people with disabilities, we need to be careful how we do it.

People who have disabilities do not necessarily see themselves as other parts of society might see them. For example, my mother was 4 foot 10 and a half and she walked with elbow crutches for most of her adult life, but it was different when she got behind the wheel of the Mini Cooper S that she drove. I remember being with her in the car—before Barbara Castle introduced the universal speed limit—as she did 100mph down the Baiglie straight.

Transport can sometimes be transformative; it was for my mother. Let us make sure that in providing parking at the end of the journey—people should not travel at 100mph as it diminishes the chance of getting there—we will enhance the lives of certain people and give them the dignity that they deserve.


14 August 2014

S4M-10784 Scotland’s Festivals

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S4M-10784, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on Scotland’s festivals, festival 2014 and culture 2014.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I suspect that my cultural horizons are a little closer in than some who will participate in this debate. Indeed, when my wife discovers that I have spoken in a debate on culture she will no doubt express considerable astonishment. However, from where we live it is a three-hour round trip to get to the nearest cinema, a three-hour round trip to get to the nearest professional theatre and a two-hour round trip to get to the nearest amateur theatre—and a very good seasonal offering it is.

However, that situation does not mean that we do not have culture in my part of the country, because culture is often small scale and local. I was slightly surprised that the culture secretary did not mention in her speech the Linlithgow folk festival, which this year is inadvertently taking place in the week immediately before the referendum, thus restricting some people’s ability to go to and participate in it. Part of the event next year will be a celebration of Matt McGinn’s life and contribution to Scottish culture. In Linlithgow, and in communities all round Scotland, we have smaller-scale but very effective and focused festivals that engage a large proportion of local people.

Rob Gibson talked about the fèisean. I would have said more than I am about to say on this, but the Fèisean Bharraigh on Barra and Vatersay has been going since 1981 and it makes a terrific contribution to sustaining Gaelic culture and many instruments that are perhaps not much used in other parts of Scotland. I was a great fan of “The Tales of Para Handy” when I was a youngster. I have probably bought that book six, seven, eight or nine times, because I keep giving it away and not getting it back as it is a compelling read. Much of it was written over 100 years ago, but a lot of the political discussions in it still echo today, interestingly. Para Handy’s instrument of choice was the trump—the jaw harp—which the player just sticks in their mouth and flicks away at, and changes the shape of their mouth to make music. Even that is probably beyond my musical abilities, and it is the simplest of all instruments. I have not heard the trump played for a very long time, so perhaps we should have some Government money for that and keep alive Para Handy’s favourite instrument.

Rhoda Grant suggested that local festivals cannot compete, but I am not so certain. What I heard was a sort of corporatist view of life that there should be great overarching co-ordination of dates and activities. I take an entirely contrary view and appreciate the anarchy that comes from grass-roots activity and a little bit of survival of the fittest but with some focused financial and organisational support. Platforms such as that which was offered by homecoming 2014 publicise local events—that is the kind of help that happens. However, by no means should we be interfering in any way, shape or form with that helpful anarchy that comes from a few enthusiastic individuals in communities across Scotland.

What actually is a festival? It comes from the Latin words “festum” and “festa”, which just mean “feast”. We have not heard much about festivals of food, but in the north-east we have festivals of food, which I very much welcome. Of course, coming from that Latin derivation and being applied across Scotland in many different ways means that a festival can cover almost anything. However, getting co-operation and engagement from across our communities is what sustains our festivals.

How many festivals do we have in Scotland? The answer is quite interesting. I put the term “Scottish festivals 2014” into Google and I got 38.5 million hits. I thought that that might be slightly too many, so I refined it down and the lowest figure that I could get with the most restrictive hit for 2014 was 3,500. There is a lot going on in Scotland.

Not everyone is a great fan of festivals. Detective Inspector Rebus is the creation of Ian Rankin, and members will know if they have read his books that Rebus drinks in the Oxford Bar in Young Street. That pub used to be owned by a guy called Willie Ross, who was a homophobe, an anglophobe, a misogynist—he hated almost everybody. He used to shut his pub for the three weeks of the festival and put a notice on the door that said, “Shut due to festival.”

Thankfully, Willie Ross—who is now deceased, so we can be as rude about him as we want to be and should be—was the absolute exception. I have a Giles cartoon book from 1948 that includes a cartoon about the fringe; that was the first year that the fringe sputtered into life. The fringe has been around a long time and it very quickly travelled across the world and across public discourse.

In my constituency the most important festival of all takes place: the Scottish traditional boat festival. It started 21 years ago, when 200 people came to Portsoy, and it now attracts 20,000 people. Occasionally they get good weather.

We have lots of festivals. I have a huge long list. I suppose that we hope that politicians do not get greatly associated with the Scots fiddle festival—think about it.

The whole point about festivals is not about levelling down great international events, but about raising up local aspiration and achievement and preserving local culture.


12 August 2014

S4M-10769 Economic Opportunities of Independence

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10769, in the name of John Swinney, on the economic opportunities of independence.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Like Elaine Murray, I am going to be a bit of a parochialist, but I am also going to be an internationalist.

The people in my constituency earn their living in a variety of ways. Fishing is a long-running industry. Over the years, my constituency has been the site of the biggest whaling port in the world, and people travelled from there to the other end of the world. Today we have Europe’s biggest whitefish port—we are significant in the pelagic industries. Many of my constituents work off shore in the oil and gas industry and are getting increasingly involved in the offshore renewables industry. Agriculture is a very significant industry. We deliver the finest beef in the world—not only to Scotland but beyond, to around the world. We also have significant engineering interests. How are those various interests served by the present arrangements, and could they be better served in an independent Scotland?

We in Scotland have the longest coastline of any country in Europe. In fact, to give everyone a sense of how long it is, I point out that China’s coastline is only 50 per cent longer than Scotland’s. We are essentially a country with extensive and important maritime interests.

When one has maritime interests, one requires the ability to defend those interests. Do the present arrangements provide for adequate defence? We heard that there are going to be three new small vessels to protect the UK’s coastal interests. Where are they to be based? Here is a picture of the total number of vessels in the Royal Navy protecting our maritime interests that are based in Scotland.

That is not just a theoretical debating point. The Kuznetsov, the biggest capital ship in the Russian navy, was built in Odessa in the late 1980s, weighing nearly 60,000 tonnes, with squadrons of Sukhoi Su-27s and Antonov 41s, helicopters, surface-to-air missiles, seven varieties of radar for detecting threats to its integrity and 2,000 sailors on board. In January this year, it was moored so close in off my constituency’s coast that, even with my eyes, with hypermetropia, myopia, presbyopia, low-light myopia and astigmatism—only one sight defect to go and I will have the full set—I could see it. It was legally moored in the Moray Firth, outside the 12-mile limit, but inside our area of economic interest of 200 miles. I could see beyond it—further out—the Beatrice oil platform. That is how close in it was—we could all see it.

How did the Royal Navy know that the Kuznetsov was there? Well, the Russian sailors have caught up with the modern world and one of them advertised the presence of the Kuznetsov via Twitter. On the case at once—believe me—the Ministry of Defence spotted it and dispatched a vessel to protect our maritime interests. In only 38 hours, it got there to see what was going on.

How would such things have been done better elsewhere? Ireland has eight vessels around its coast. It has just increased the number from seven to eight vessels, and they are distributed around the rather shorter coastline of that smaller, less economically powerful country. Ireland also has a couple of aircraft, which could have gone out and sniffed and hovered over the top and seen what was going on. Our Nimrods are history—unreplaced. The Kuznetsov is also an aircraft carrier and, as I said, it has aircraft on it, which is slightly different from the UK situation.

Our other interests include agriculture. Our farmers get the lowest support of any country in Europe, not because money was not provided by the European Union to help farmers in more disadvantaged areas but because the UK Government kept that money, which came to the UK only because of the special circumstances of agriculture in Scotland, where 85 per cent of our land has less favoured area status, while south of the border 15 per cent of the land has less favoured area status. We suffer in agriculture because we are part of the current union. We could do so much better.

Fishing—if only I had an hour or two on that subject. We have seen our fishing industry suffer every time the UK represents fishing in Europe, because the priorities of the Scottish fishing industry are not the priorities of the United Kingdom.

Were we representing ourselves—even if our own minister occasionally got to speak in Europe—we would do better. An independent Scotland would certainly do better beyond peradventure.

We have heard a lot about currency, which is important, but even more important is our economy. The currency is secondary to our economy. If we do not get our economy right and we do not have a Government that represents our economy’s interests, my constituents will continue to suffer the effects of the United Kingdom. It is time we had independence, so that my constituents and people across Scotland can be properly supported in their economic endeavours.


05 August 2014

S4M-10712 Scotland and Malawi

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10712, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on Scotland and Malawi, a special relationship.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): It has been said of Malawi that it is the warm heart of Africa. What better country could we seek to have a relationship with?

I will pick up on some of the things that Sarah Boyack said about agriculture and highlight some of the great challenges that we in our western developed world are imposing on countries such as Malawi—and perhaps on Malawi in particular.

Two thirds of Malawi’s exports are tobacco. We are rightly seeking to remove tobacco as a major part of our society, for the health of people in our country, and other countries are doing the same. However, when we do that it will have a significant effect on the economy of a country such as Malawi, in which two thirds of exports are tobacco based. We therefore owe a duty to countries such as Malawi to help them cross over to a more beneficial mode of agriculture. They are essentially self-sufficient when it comes to food for themselves, but we are already seeing a danger that tobacco farmers, in the face of reducing profits, move across to grow cannabis. That will not be helpful in the long term for people who are in desperate need in countries such as Malawi.

Climate change is making agriculture a more formidable challenge in many countries in Africa, and we in the developed world are largely responsible for that. We therefore need to ensure that we support people in Malawi, which we are already doing. We have a number of programmes there that we support.

I have, of course, said before in the Parliament that climate change in Africa in particular has a gender bias in that it differentially affects women over men, as women are generally the homemakers and the agronomists. While the men sit round the village table discussing the state of world affairs, the women do the actual work. They walk further to get water and get less from the soil for their efforts, as a result of climate change. Therefore, I very much welcome the initiative that the previous Administration took to build effective relationships with Malawi, which continues to be sustained by the current Government.

We have a number of relationships with Malawi. Hastings Banda, who was born in about 1898, came to Edinburgh to convert his medical qualification to one that was acceptable in the UK. In 1941, the University of Edinburgh awarded him three separate awards. My father, who was studying medicine, knew him; indeed, he was in some of the same classes. I do not necessarily hold up Hastings Banda’s contribution to Malawi as one of unalloyed success, but he at least started off the country.

Let us remember that many of the African boundaries were arbitrarily imposed by colonialists, so we share some of the blame in that regard.

A great thing happening in Malawi is that a sense of adherence to that country—artificial as it was in its genesis—is clearly being reflected in public life today.

A democracy can be tested simply: a democracy exists if a Government allows itself to be removed from office by a ballot of its people. Malawi has passed that fundamental test, which we should much welcome.

I welcome what both the Opposition parties say in their amendments. I do not know what the Government’s position will be, but each contains merit. Malawi is an important friend of ours; let us be an ever-important friend of Malawi.


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