28 January 2015

S4M-11190 Hepatitis C

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11190, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on hepatitis C. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the blood-borne virus, hepatitis C, is a major cause of liver disease; understands that, in Scotland, an estimated 39,000 people, many unknowingly, are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), including many in Aberdeen; considers that the current Scottish administration and its predecessors have done much to highlight and prevent HCV infection and improve treatment by implementing the aims of the Hepatitis C Action Plan and the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework; commends organisations such as the Hepatitis C Trust and Hepatitis Scotland on their efforts in advocating for people with HCV and lobbying on their behalf; believes that new treatments may offer opportunities, and welcomes what it sees as the Scottish Government, the NHS, the third sector and pharmaceutical companies continuing to cooperate in the fight to eradicate hepatitis C.

... ... ...

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

As the motion refers to “pharmaceutical companies”, I declare at the outset that my niece Jo works for such a company. She lives in Sweden, but the industry is international.

The statistics are interesting. We are told that there may be up to, or approaching, 40,000 people in Scotland with chronic hep C infection. Statistically, that means that one member of Parliament will have hep C. I recognise that there is an element of social discrimination, and that we are perhaps not the most likely cohort of people to suffer from the virus. However, that statistic provides a context for, and perspective on, the spread of the disease.

We can be exposed to the disease not simply as a result of sharing needles when using drugs, but through use of blood products. Some 30-plus years ago, I was injected with gamma globulin because I was travelling to areas where there was a wide range of infections that might attack my immune system, and it was thought proper to boost it before I went. That meant that my blood-donating years came to an end about 15 years ago, and for many years I could give my blood only for plasma. So far, so good: there are no particular signs that I have that infection. However, one of the difficulties with the virus is diagnosis; it can sit dormant and undiagnosed for a very long time.

The liver is one of the more difficult organs of the human body to treat. About 30 or 40 years ago, serious conditions of the liver essentially could not be treated, and palliative care would be given. Liver rupture was often the third cause of death in car accidents, as people bled to death—the liver could be packed, but that did not do much good because it would not heal itself very effectively.

Today, we are in a different position. There is the possibility of liver transplant, and a relatively wide range of pharmacological interventions are deployed with varying degrees of success. It is a tribute to the pharmacological companies and the support that the NHS has given to people with hep C that people now recover and have the virus eliminated from their system, and are restored to good health. I hope that we see much more of that in the future.

The pancreas and the liver are two organs of the body that can cause great difficulties. We are increasingly learning how to deal with viruses; one hopes that we will go on to deal with prions, which are the cause of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. That is, of course, why I was stopped from being allowed to give blood.

I congratulate Kevin Stewart on bringing to the chamber this excellent debate, which is timely and informative. I will certainly go away having learned a great deal from the speeches of other members. I also congratulate the Hepatitis C Trust, which looks after and supports people who suffer from hep C. When people have conditions that are highly variable and relatively invisible over a long period of time, and which can also carry a degree of social stigma, they find such support to be immensely valuable. I hope that the Hepatitis C Trust continues to provide such support for many years to come, but I hope even more that we eliminate the disease and that the trust’s efforts become entirely unnecessary.


S4M-12160 Women Offenders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12160, in the name of Kezia Dugdale, on women offenders.

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

I congratulate Kezia Dugdale on what was basically a broadly drawn and generally well-argued case. I agree on the broad thrust and disagree on the detail—that is the nature of debate. I was slightly disappointed that the issue of remand did not come until 12 minutes into her 14-minute speech, but Elaine Murray dealt with the matter; I very much welcome that.

Like others, I have visited the 218 centre. It was probably more than 10 years ago when I went there with Pauline McNeill, who was a Labour MSP at the time, thus indicating a willingness and an ability to work together. At the risk of damaging Richard Simpson’s political career forever, I add that we worked together very effectively when we were dealing with the issue of Peterhead prison. I used to take him away from his officials for secret coffee rendezvous. He is covering his face—but not in shame, because he did well on the subject. We can work together on the issue of women offenders and I very much welcome the tone of the debate so far.

An issue that has not come up might usefully be added for consideration afterwards. It is very clear that there are huge literacy and numeracy issues in prison. I genuinely do not know whether that is a gender issue. However, in smaller units, which is where we would expect to see women, there ought to be greater opportunity for dealing with that issue.

Dr Richard Simpson (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): I have a couple of facts to share. The previous numeracy survey, which was carried out in 2013, says that 22 per cent of women had numeracy problems, 11 per cent had reading problems and 13 per cent had writing problems. The position is not that dissimilar for men.

Stewart Stevenson: I am grateful to the member for that. I am more familiar with the circumstances of male prisoners, because the sex offenders unit used to be in my constituency and I regularly visited constituents in there. We need to add numeracy and literacy to the mix of things that we look at.

It is interesting to visit different prisons. I visited quite a lot during the second session of the Parliament, when I was shadow deputy justice minister, with responsibility for prisons and drug policy. I went to the State hospital at Carstairs—we touched on mental health during the debate, which fortunately seems not to be quite so much of an issue for women—and my wife and I went to the women’s unit at Porterfield prison, in Inverness. My wife, who was coming to the issue absolutely fresh, was extremely impressed by the care and attention that staff gave to prisoners, in physical conditions that were far from ideal. The unit is small—I think that there were six women there when we visited.

I also visited Bapaume prison, north-east of Paris, to get comparative information for the Peterhead campaign, and was very impressed by what was being done for women there. The prison had a call centre, where women were being trained to work, and a manufacturing unit, where people were making changing mats for babies. There was a mother and baby unit, too, and the presence of children under two seemed to have a significant moderating effect on prisoners’ behaviour. Such an approach must be considered carefully, because children need to be protected from the effects of imprisonment, but it seemed to work at Bapaume.

I visited HMP Grampian shortly after the first women prisoners arrived there. The women were enthusiastic about the physical environment, although at that stage they were not particularly engaged in rehabilitation, so I cannot speak to that. They even told me that the food was good and invited me to join them for lunch—alas, another appointment took me away.

We have talked about the numbers. It happens that, as part of a private project, I have looked at convictions in St Andrews court between 1889 and 1899—my interest in genealogy took me there. Just as is the case today, 5 per cent of the convictions were of women. Nothing has changed in 125 years. I thought that that was interesting. The Ministry of Justice figures for England show broadly the same proportion of women prisoners, even though English policy is rather different in certain regards.

When Jim Wallace made a statement to the Parliament in September 2002 he was questioned about the failure to reduce the number of women prisoners. Jim Wallace was also criticised for a 28 per cent increase in remand prisoners, which was not well understood, and Cathy Peattie talked about overcrowding at Cornton Vale prison. This is a long-running issue. I hope that the minister will be unique in managing to make a difference. He has made a step change in policy.

We have made a good start. By resetting policy on women offenders, we do a good thing not just for offenders but for Scotland as a whole, because if we reset policy and focus on piloting new ways of rehabilitating people and addressing mental health issues, through dialogue with all parties, as the Government’s amendment says, we will be in a good place. I congratulate Labour on bringing the motion to the Parliament.


22 January 2015

S4M-12120 National Health Service 2020 Vision

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12120, in the name of Shona Robison, on the 2020 vision, the strategic forward direction of the national health service.

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

One of the great achievements of the Labour Party was the bringing into being of the national health service in 1948. However we should not forget the genesis of that achievement. It started with David Lloyd George's National Insurance Act 1911; indeed, to this day-I have actually heard the expression used in a doctor's surgery in the past 12 months-the folder in which one's medical records are held is still referred to as a Lloyd George.

Of course, the names of very few politicians go down in history in that way, although just a few hundred metres from here, there is a Belisha beacon, which is named after Hore-Belisha, a transport minister in the 1930s. I commend to NHS Grampian the suggestion that the hospital yet to be named be called L'hôpital Allard, thus immortalising my colleague to my left.

Perhaps most important is the Highlands and Islands (Medical Services) Grant Act 1913, which for 35 years was, in essence, a national health service, centrally funded and managed and free at the point of delivery, for the Highlands and Islands. It put the first resident nurse on St Kilda in 1914, for example. Scotland has actually led the way in how we deliver health services free to people who need them today. Let us hope that we can maintain the consensus that says that that is what we should do.

We should also remember that William Beveridge, author of the "Social Insurance and Allied Services" report of 1942 was a Liberal.

Dennis Robertson: Moving into the 21st century, would Mr Stevenson acknowledge that telehealth medicine is the way for the future in a lot of our remote and rural areas?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Robertson is absolutely right, and our geography means that we have the opportunity to innovate and the greatest benefit to deliver. It is worth remembering that the first medical air service in Scotland started in 1935, and the first patient travel from Islay to Glasgow on an ad hoc basis in 1933. It is interesting for me to see what has changed since I worked in the health service 51 years ago, when staffing and resources were substantially less than they now are. For example, there has been a 36.2 per cent increase in geriatric consultants between September 2006 and September 2014. I Particularly welcome that because, as you can work out from the information that I was a nurse 51 years ago, that is a matter of considerable personal interest to me. Associated with that is the nearly 30 per cent reduction in senior managers, diverting resources to where they are needed, which is on the front line. That is a process that has been going on for some considerable time, and we all have had our hands on that, but as parliamentarians we must continue to hold ministers to account to ensure that that continues.

Things have changed. My father was a GP, single-handed, rural and urban. As a single-handed GP, he had 2,200 patients. Nowadays it would be inconceivable that a GP could have that number of patients, because what GPs and people on the front line now do is so much greater now. Fifty years ago, what the GP did was important, but it was much more about pastoral care and there was less intervention than we would expect nowadays.

We have had a lot of changes over the years. We have seen a huge focus on workplace health and a reduction in workplace accidents and work-related disease. We know the phrase "mad as a hatter", that came from the use of mercury in the hat-making industry. People who made hats became mad from exposure to mercury. That does not happen any more.

The next challenge for us all is, of course, the personal responsibility that was mentioned by Jackson Carlaw. A health warning in The Herald a week ago stated that lack of exercise may be twice as deadly as obesity. A report from Public Health Wales indicates cot death risk among families with smokers in them-an element of personal responsibility. We get lots of messages through the media. I particularly liked the headline in The Independent on 19 April 2014 that ran:

"A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims."

Richard Lyle: Hear, hear.

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that that claim is a bit over the top, but my point is that we are all exposed to those messages, and those of us in public life must take some responsibility for ensuring that people get sensible messages.

In conclusion, let me touch on the issue raised by the Labour amendment in relation to staff. The 2014 NHS staff survey shows that 26 out of 29 core questions show an improvement. In particular 90 per cent of staff said that they were happy to go the extra mile at work when required. That is an increase of 3 per cent since the previous survey. At the core of our health service is our staff. Let us continue to support them and congratulate them on a world-beating service at a world-beating price.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Many Thanks. Another tour de force.


13 January 2015

S4M-12034 Protecting Public Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12034, in the name of Keith Brown, on protecting public services.

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

Let me start on a consensual note and congratulate the Labour Party on the third part of its amendment, which

“calls on all parties to work together to tackle inequality, support economic growth and proudly protect Scotland’s public services.”

That is pretty hard to disagree with. Essentially, of course, it just replaces the last part of the Government’s motion, which it deletes, with a slightly different formulation. More significant is what the Labour Party’s amendment takes out of the Government’s motion, which is most of it.

First, we might look at the deletion of the reference to and criticism of

“the impact that the UK Government’s austerity agenda will have on the delivery of public services”

Labour obviously disagrees with that, as it deletes it from the Government’s motion.

Secondly, Labour’s amendment seeks to delete from the Government’s motion the reference to welfare cuts of £15 billion, so clearly the party agrees with those cuts.

Ken Macintosh rightly referred to the fact that Government spending at UK level currently makes up the smallest proportion of national income since the 1930s, but at 5 o’clock he will, if he so chooses, vote for a Labour amendment that seeks to delete the reference to that fact from the Government’s motion.

The reality is that Labour’s biggest and most important proposed deletion from the Government’s motion relates to spending money on weapons of mass destruction rather than on other things. The motion is drawn quite widely and covers all levels of government. I will spend a bit of my time highlighting the need for proper defence for Scotland and our interests, which is an issue that also touches on the UK’s wider interests.

Scotland contributes disproportionately more soldiers than does elsewhere in the UK. When our soldiers were peacekeeping in Kosovo, they had to use their personal mobile phones for communication because the Army’s mark IV radios were so poor that they did not work properly in the mountainous terrain. That is because money was not spent on developing communications systems that were fit for purpose.

When our soldiers were in Iraq, they were ordering boots by email from suppliers in the UK because the rubber soles on the boots that the Army had provided were melting in the desert sands. The equipment was not fit for purpose.

More fundamentally, in Afghanistan, the UK has so few helicopters that only 5 per cent of soldiers have gone to points of application by helicopter, in comparison with 95 per cent of US soldiers. The most dangerous part of deployment is when soldiers travel from their barracks to the point of application. As a result, the casualty rate among UK military personnel has been 50 per cent higher than the rate for the US military, because we are not investing money in the right equipment for our troops. That diminishes their effectiveness and leaves Scotland and the UK vulnerable.

In the past week, we have seen further evidence of underinvestment. As a result of money being diverted to weapons of mass destruction that will never be used in our maritime interests, we have had to scrounge support from other countries when there appeared to be threats off our shores.

Scotland has the longest coastline in Europe—in fact, our coastline is half the length of that of China, which is one of the biggest countries in the world after Russia. Every single country around us has a proper defence system. The Irish have maritime surveillance aircraft, as do the Icelanders and the Norwegians, but the UK has none. The Irish have eight vessels posted around their coasts to provide coastal defence, and the Icelanders also have vessels, but there is not a single vessel based in Scotland for the purposes of coastal defence or support.

Spending our money on weapons of mass destruction not only deprives our public services and public servants of proper funding; it does not even serve the purposes of defence by any reasonable measure that one might apply.

We need to get the basics right rather than spend money on weapons of mass destruction. I seek to make not a moral case against such weapons, as easy as that would be, but a simple pragmatic case that highlights the current priorities that the Labour Party, in common with other parties, seeks to delete from the motion. I assume that Mr Findlay and all his Labour colleagues will, at 5 o’clock, vote to spend £100 billion on new nuclear weapons.

There are only two of us in the chamber who were born—I think—before the creation of the national health service; I will not name the other member. I was fortunate—as others have been fortunate since the health service was founded—because my parents were able to afford the cost of approximately £50 for an operation for my mother so that she could conceive me and give birth. There may be members in the chamber who regret that, but the kind of benefit that I got from my family is now, through the health service, extended to all our population.

I congratulate the Labour Party on having created the health service back then; would that the party once again adhered to the principles that carried the health service into being and resiled from the cuts agenda to which it is now irrevocably wedded.


08 January 2015

S4M-11993 Boosting the Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11993, in the name of John Swinney, on boosting the economy.

... ... ...

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

One of the great achievements in the Scottish economy in recent years has been the great uplift in our exports. Of course, Scotland has been an exporting nation for an extremely long time. I remember standing on the shores of Lake Titicaca, looking at the ferry from Peru to Bolivia, which was built on the Clyde. I visited the biggest Buddha in the world, which is just outside Rangoon in Burma, and saw that it sits on a frame that proudly says that it was manufactured in Kilmarnock. Further, everywhere one goes in the world, one finds bottles of whisky awaiting an appreciative audience to drink them. Exporting credentials are long established and exports continue to be an important and growing part of our economy.

Many of my constituents and those of others who represent the north-east export skills that are based on their experience of the oil and gas industry and, whatever the vicissitudes of the short-term difficulties, that will undoubtedly continue. However, one of the things that I am most delighted about is that we are no longer exporting people in any substantial sense. It is quite ironic that the new memorial to the clearances at Helmsdale, which has a little child holding his mother’s hand and looking back down the glen to a place that they will never see again, is within sight of the oil field just off the coast—the Beatrice field, which has, of course, been a pioneer in the offshore wind industry.

The wind industry is going to be an important part of our future. Harbours in my constituency—in Buckie, Fraserburgh and Peterhead—want to get some of the action from offshore wind. However, the UK Government’s dithering delay and damaging changes to the regime put at risk those new jobs, which are long term and sustainable. Even when oil has ceased to be part of our economy, those will be important to us.

I have heard some interesting things in the debate. It is always a great pleasure to hear Neil Findlay speak, if only for the excitement of watching him wrestle with the internal contradictions in the arguments that he puts forward and wondering which side of him is going to win. When he criticises the suggestion that Scotland should have control over corporation tax, as Northern Ireland will before the general election, he ignores the fact that Gordon Brown cut corporation tax more often than anyone. Clearly, given that Mr Findlay criticises Gordon Brown, I can only assume that he is a Blairite.

In my remaining 60 seconds, let me touch on what Mr Findlay said about employment. I am delighted to hear him argue for our having full powers over employment law. I will join him in campaigning for that at every opportunity. His recent campaigning against the policy, however, was not so good.

Jackie Baillie seemed to celebrate the drop in the oil price, although the price that the UK Government was given by the Department of Energy and Climate Change is exactly the same as the one that the Scottish Government used. We hear that, in a year’s time, the price will be back to that level. Nevertheless, the long-term future of oil is as a feedstock for our chemical industries, so we must get off burning it—that is important.

I look forward to future prosperity and growth in our economy.


07 January 2015

S4M-11980 Active Travel

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11980, in the name of Derek Mackay, on active travel.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate the minister on his appointment to the most exciting—in the Chinese sense—portfolio in the Government. I will continue to get out my prayer mat on a weekly basis to pray that all the snow that falls over the winter will do so at no lower a level than 1,500 feet, thus ensuring the satisfaction of skiers and the clear roads that will enable the transport minister to sleep at night.

It is interesting and revealing to look at the motion and the amendments. The Government motion makes three references to cycling and two references to walking. In its amendment, the Labour Party has achieved a perfect 50:50 balance. The Greens seem to be a bit obsessed about this strange cycling thing—their amendment contains five references to cycling and only one to walking. I am here to redress the balance a little, because I am not the committed cyclist that some other members are.

So far today, I have done 7,500 steps. My walk from here to the railway station tonight will complete the 10,000 steps target. Yesterday, I did 15,000 steps. That adds up to only about 15 miles a week. Although that sounds quite decent, my nephew, who used to be a world-class orienteer, used to cover 160 miles a week as part of his training schedule, so I could go a bit further.

At the risk of being characterised as a grumpy old man, I suggest that much of the debate has focused on entirely the wrong thing—investment in infrastructure. That is nothing to do with the subject under discussion. Ministers love investment in infrastructure—they will go off and spend every £1 that we can give them on infrastructure, because they love to go and open things or be photographed beside a new bit of cycle track, at a new bike hire station or putting a new name on a train—but the reality is that we have to change what goes on in people’s minds.

If we were to think about buying shoes that were suitable for walking for a million people in Scotland, how much would that cost? It would cost less than the annual active travel budget. In health terms and in improving people’s engagement in active travel, would that deliver a greater benefit than spending any money on cycling? I say that to provoke, not because I am realistically proposing that we decommit on cycling. I just want us to think about what £1 that is spent on something actually buys in public policy terms; £1 that is spent on walking buys a heck of a lot more than £1 that is spent on almost anything else in the area of active travel, and I would like to see us do something about that.

Walking can be a rather flexible thing. There is a guy in my constituency—I normally see him outside my constituency—whom I keep meaning to somehow stop so that I can find out who he is and what he does. He roller-skates on the main road. He uses roller-skating as a means of transport—I have seen him do 10 miles on roller skates. Perhaps we should equip people not just with walking shoes, but with roller skates, because roller-skating is a good, healthy form of exercise, too. I have heard no mention of the provision of roller skates for the population of Scotland. Perhaps we should think about that.

In such debates, we must challenge the norms. As members, let us look in the mirror. How many of us came to the Parliament in a taxi?

Mary Fee (West Scotland) (Lab): Will the member take a brief intervention on the subject of roller skates?

Stewart Stevenson: If Mary Fee knows more about roller skates than I do, which will not be hard, I most certainly will.

Mary Fee: My point may help to illustrate the debate. In a previous life, I worked for one of our largest retailers and when they were rolling out the opening of the massive superstores, they gave some of the staff at the checkouts roller skates so that they could manoeuvre their way around the stores a bit more easily. That might be something that we should be talking to our retail friends about a bit more.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): I remind members that we are very short of time.

Stewart Stevenson: I am simultaneously keeping a very close eye on my watch and on your steely gaze, Presiding Officer.

Nanette Milne gave us great heart that if we engage in this exercise thing, everything that we do will improve our lives. I have the feeling that I might have the grave misfortune, if I continue my present level of exercise—because I do not use a taxi—to live to 150, but that is okay.

I have genuinely looked at cycling; I was on the point of going ahead with it until my wife saw what I was looking at on the internet. I was looking at monocycles because they are quite easy to carry around, they are quite cheap and they are easy to maintain. I thought that it would scare the heck out of people at the Parliament if they saw me on my monocycle.

We have a clear choice about where to spend money. I genuinely say to the minister that yes, we have to invest in infrastructure and we should continue to do that but we really have to invest in changing the hearts and minds of the people of Scotland. Almost everybody has the equipment to engage in walking and they have it right now. It will be raining heavily when Parliament finishes its day’s business, but I still want to see all the members here walking to Waverley if that is where they are going.


06 January 2015

S4M-11976 Winter Festivals

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-11976, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on winter festivals.

... ... ...

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

Fifty years ago, as a student, I obtained temporary employment with the General Post Office at Christmas, helping to deliver a larger than usual postbag. We were paid off on Christmas eve and the regulars did the postal delivery on Christmas day. Shops were open, newspapers and milk were delivered to the house and my general practitioner father had surgeries on Christmas day. In short, when I was a youngster there was very limited celebration of Christmas. New year was an entirely different matter. When we went first footing to neighbours’ houses, we normally carried something to drink, something to eat and something to burn.

A great deal has changed. The focus is perhaps less now on individual action and much more on organised events. Let me gently tweak the tail of the Tories, because when their amendment talks about strategies it is at odds with my instincts. I do not think that this is about strategies at all; it is about defining winter celebrations as things that happen locally. We have a huge amount of talent to draw on; organising and directing it through a strategy is perhaps not the way forward.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con): If we listen to what the arts bodies are saying, we will find that, although they agree with the member entirely about allowing creativity to flourish in local areas, they want a wider, overarching strategy, which brings more aspects of Scottish society together, to give intrinsic value to art.

Stewart Stevenson: Well, that is where we fundamentally disagree. I do not want to bring people together; I want to encourage diversity and local community action. I recognise that I might be a lone voice in that regard—I am not expressing the view of my political colleagues—but I just think that winter offers an opportunity for individuals to enjoy themselves and for communities and little groups to get together.

We heard that 18 funding streams were used last year, which is very much to be welcomed, because we need the anchor points that attract international attention. However, self-directed, self-organised, spontaneous celebration of the good in winter—be it a religious celebration as at Christmas, a secular one as at new year, or simply an excuse for a party on a dark night, with appropriate lubrication to keep the wheels turning—is all to be welcomed.

The word “hogmanay” is a mysterious one. It might come from the Gaelic “oge maidne”, or “new morning”, or—and this is my preference—from the Flemish “hoog min dag”, which means “high love day”. I say that that is my preference because there is the opportunity to celebrate the old new year, which comes in the middle of January, and that is something for which I feel a particular affection, because I was born on 15 October. Members of a gynaecological disposition will think about that carefully and work out why I feel as I do. My brother was born on exactly the same day three years after me, so my parents clearly shared my enthusiasm for the old new year.

I am drawing on my considerable experience when I say that I regret that there was no snow this winter—not every minister in the Government will agree with me on that. When I watched my great-niece and her brother pulling a sledge in Denmark over Christmas, I felt really jealous.

We have lots to celebrate in Scotland. We are doing extremely well. Let us keep it up and do even better in future.


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