31 March 2015

S4M-12849 Dairy Industry

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12849, in the name of Rob Gibson, on the dairy industry inquiry. We have a bit of time in hand, so the Presiding Officers will be generous if members wish to take interventions. Indeed, we might be generous if members indicate that their speeches are likely to be a bit longer.

I call Rob Gibson to speak to and move the motion on behalf of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.

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

As with other members, milk is very much woven into my personal history. Dave Thompson referred to the dairy break. He is not that much younger than me, so he probably remembers, as I do, the third-of-a-pint glass bottles that came to the school for us all at our 11 o’clock break. That was done and paid for by the Ministry of Food, which existed through the war and after the war, for health reasons. It promoted health and good eating habits.

I have to say that the quality of the milk in Castlehill primary school in Cupar—I can refer to it as it is not there any more—was not greatly improved by the crate of milk sitting next to the radiator. The curdling was well under way by the time the milk reached the pupils’ mouths at 11 o’clock, so it perhaps did not have the positive effect on us that it might otherwise have had.

The issue of milk not reaching its markets in the required condition has been mentioned today. My father was a country doctor, and when there was too much milk on the farm, the farmer’s wife would make crowdie in the kitchen, and the crowdie would come home with my father. Now, it is almost impossible to get hold of crowdie; only our former colleague Jamie Stone’s company in the far north seems to get any of it into our supermarkets. It is not quite the crowdie that I remember—it is not as moist and luscious as the stuff that I remember the local farmers making. There ought to be a market for bringing that back as an example of nostalgia food.

Yoghurt has been mentioned. I can actually remember where I had my first yoghurt: it was on the pier at Kirkcudbright in August 1966. It was made by one of my fellow sailors with whom I was attending a regatta. It was absolutely terrific stuff, and I got addicted to the extent that, when the former First Minister Alex Salmond and I were down in the south-west campaigning in 1997, we visited the Rowan Glen factory, which produced what was—certainly back then—the best yoghurt in Scotland. The factory used a microfilter system to make the yoghurt creamy and smooth rather than putting additives in it, which contributes to making the taste not as effective, as can be found elsewhere.

Rob Gibson: As we are talking about south-west Scotland, I note that in a Herald article today, Stewart Jamieson says:

“As a dairy farmer in south-west Scotland for 40 years, I watched the large dairying estates such as Stair, Bute and Buccleuch decline due to lack of investment with farm steadings becoming increasingly outdated. The dairying owner occupiers close by have become prosperous businesses with modern buildings. Investment is one of the keys to economic prosperity.”

Does Stewart Stevenson agree that talk of efficiency in the dairy farming industry is tied up with investment by landlords in fixed equipment?

Stewart Stevenson: Rob Gibson makes a good point. I recall that my family used to go camping at Faskally farm just north of Pitlochry, and I remember the excitement when I went into the milking shed to see the first automated milking machines. They were introduced because the farmer owned his farm and felt that it was worth investing in. In later years, we went to Ardgualich, just down from the Queen’s view, and the farmer there was a tenant who could not afford to do the same.

I very much welcome the fact that three of the objectives in the Government’s response relate to investment and getting the enterprise agencies involved. I hope that farmers get some certainty on the return on the investments that they make in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their milking operations.

Rhoda Grant referred to rickets, whose effects milk can mitigate and prevent. That is absolutely true, but milk does more than that. It is particularly important for females, who are affected more by hormonal changes later in life. If they have good bone structure, they suffer less from those effects. Milk is an important part of building good bone structure early in life, and continuing to drink it helps to sustain that structure for ever.

Having done a lot of travelling to many places around the world over the years, I find it interesting to compare and contrast the standards to which milk is produced elsewhere. One of the first things that I like to do when I get off the plane after visiting many of those places is to drink a glass of cold milk, because I might have been away for three or four weeks and not felt that I could drink a glass of cold milk in safety.

The standards of production in these islands—not simply in Scotland—are very high. I love the Indian drink lassi, which is a liquid yoghurt, and specifically lassi sal, because the way in which it is made means that I can trust it, but I am not so sure that I would otherwise drink milk that was produced in some countries beyond Europe.

We have a good-quality product that delivers more value than we have perhaps heard mentioned today. When supermarkets sell milk at below cost price, they do not do so for altruistic reasons. It is a commodity that is widely bought and widely sought after. When a supermarket sells a product such as milk—a staple that is bought relatively frequently—at lower than the supermarket’s cost price, it does so because it will make a profit elsewhere. It is time that the supermarkets considered sharing the wider benefit, which they derive from increased footfall and profits across other products with big margins, that is delivered by having milk available that is of good quality, is locally produced and is valued by consumers.

The dreaded word “subsidy” comes into the debate. We provide support to our farmers—dairy farmers and other farmers. When the townie comes to the country, they see the product of our supporting our farmers, and that is valued by urban dwellers, who are prepared to support our farmers, just as we in the countryside need support for them.

The debate has been useful and timely. The committee is to be absolutely congratulated on its endeavours and on the flexibility and speed of its response to the crisis created by First Milk.

I continue to drink milk and I continue to enjoy it. I hope that we can have the kind of infrastructure and economic support for the dairy industry that means that I can continue to do so for the rest of my days.


25 March 2015

S4M-12157 Earth Hour 2015

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12157, in the name of Graeme Dey, on earth hour 2015. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports WWF’s Earth Hour 2015; celebrates the many individuals, families, communities, organisations and landmarks across Scotland, including the Scottish Parliament, that will be participating by switching their lights off for an hour at 8.30pm on 28 March; congratulates all of the local authorities participating in Earth Hour 2015, particularly Angus Council, which has been awarded one of WWF Scotland’s Super Local Authority badges for its level of participation; considers that Earth Hour has become a moment for people around the world to think about the importance of action to address climate change and protect the planet; notes that Scotland will be one of more than 160 countries, nations and territories around the world that will take part in Earth Hour 2015; understands that this year is an important year for action on climate change, with the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place in Paris in December; welcomes the continued cross-party support for the aims of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and would welcome other nations sharing Scotland’s ambitions on tackling climate change, and wishes everyone participating in Earth Hour 2015 every success.

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

Like others, I congratulate Graeme Dey and thank him for securing time for the debate.

A lot is happening in the world. Ocean currents are slowing. The gulf stream will be a less significant moderator of the climate in north-west Europe in years to come. That has already started, which is why we are having harsh winters. In one of the past five years, the temperature at our house dropped to -21°C. In another year, it was -19°C. That has been followed by two years of unseasonable warmth that meant that we were sitting having a barbecue at the end of February last winter.

There is greater variability in our climate, which will not be good news for the long-term health of our planet. We have seen shrinking of the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, and we are seeing increased aridification in Africa in particular. As I have said in many debates before, that is a gender issue because the majority of subsistence farmers in rural Africa are female. They are having to go further for water and will have to go further for the wood that they burn in their stoves.

Climate change causes very significant problems for real people. It will lead to mass migration and deaths. It is not simply an academic argument.

I shall be doing my little bit to promote earth hour. I will be in the Shuna and Staffa suite of the Crowne Plaza hotel next to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre at 8.30 on Saturday night. I am the quizmaster in a WWF candlelit quiz. It is, of course, associated with the Scottish National Party conference but it is not on the SNP conference campus, so I extend an invitation to all who are listening to come and join us on that excellent occasion. I shall be on sparkling form as I normally am at such occasions.

The motion talks about celebrating the work of individuals, families and communities, and it highlights the work of Angus Council. It is worth mentioning the two councils in my constituency. Most if not all of Aberdeenshire Council’s offices will switch their lights off, which is good news. Moray Council has arranged that the Buckie town clock and the Cullen town clock will be part of earth hour. Indeed, it has been awarded a super local authority badge. It is not a great secret that I have my disagreements with Moray Council but, on this policy area, it is at least taking the right steps.

It is somewhat ironic that earth hour started in Sydney because Australia now has a Prime Minister who has been deconstructing his predecessor’s efforts to address climate change at a time when the states, particularly South Australia, have been doing well. Indeed, the Government here lost its head of environment to South Australia, where he is now carrying on good work at a state level.

The conference of the parties will be in Paris this year. As a minister, I went first to the one in Poznan and then to the one in Copenhagen. The United Kingdom—in particular, Gordon Brown—refused to allow us to be part of the delegation, but I am delighted to say that, since then, the Scottish Government has been part of the delegation and has been an active and effective contributor.

I will end with a controversial point on which I am in a single-digit minority. The big thing that we should and could contemplate is reducing the speed limits in Scotland, wherever they are, by 10mph. It would cost almost nothing to do. It would not be popular, but I do not care because I will be 70 next year. It is one of the proposals that we must get on the agenda, and I encourage people to think about it seriously.


17 March 2015

S4M-12163 Average Speed Cameras on the A9

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12163, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on average-speed cameras on the A9. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the recently published performance data regarding the average speed cameras on the A9, which suggests that, since the cameras were introduced, the number of drivers speeding has reduced from around one in three to one in 20 and that examples of excessive speeding are down by 97%; understands that there is no evidence of drivers taking diversions or using so-called rat runs to avoid the cameras; believes that their introduction has resulted in an increase in journey time reliability to and from Inverness, and considers that both the cameras and the HGV speed limit pilot on the A9, which have been put in place ahead of the dualling of the road, have been a success and have led to more responsible and safer motoring.

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

I thank Mike MacKenzie for the opportunity to debate this important subject. I declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I also declare that I had no hand whatsoever, that I am aware of, in building the A9, although when I was a transport minister, I was involved in the relocating of 41 colonies of wood ants as a result of a small improvement. They are doing very well, by the way.

Have safety cameras that measure average speeds changed behaviours and reduced lawbreaking? The answer, with the benefit of a few months’ experience, has to be yes. Have accidents and the numbers killed and seriously injured been reduced? Again, conditionally and provisionally, the answer is yes.

We need to think about what people who say that we should not have average-speed cameras are actually saying. They are saying that, although we have a law that sets the speed limit, we do not want to enforce that law. Why are we choosing not to enforce that law, among all other laws? Because it is a matter of personal convenience and arrogance on the part of those who wish permission, unsupervised and unenforced, to break one of our laws. If the law is wrong—one could argue that it is and that the speed limit is not the right one—there is a way to deal with that. However, putting other people’s lives at risk while doing that is not on—not in any way whatsoever.

I very much welcome the improvements that we are seeing in the layout and engineering of the A9, and the dualling of the road all the way to Inverness will be of great benefit. In the distant past, I lived in Fife and had a girlfriend who lived in Inverness, and members can be absolutely sure that I was familiar with the road. My family used to travel from Fife to Sutherland for our summer holidays every year for many years. That used to be a 12-hour journey, on the previous incarnation of the A9.

Today’s A9 is different from the one before, and the next generation will be different again. However, we will not engineer out all the accidents and issues on the A9 by dualling it. Parliamentary answers to Murdo Fraser show that, in every year about which he asked questions, the M8—which is a motorway and a dual carriageway—had a higher rate of accidents per kilometre than the A9.

We do not find ourselves addressing just engineering. I absolutely support Dave Stewart’s efforts, which focus on driver education and graduated driving licences. Members will have heard before that I am a private pilot. In flying, people do not simply pass their test and get the right to go off and do everything—it does not happen that way. They cannot fly at night, fly out of sight of the ground or fly in clouds. They cannot fly multi-engine planes, planes with retractable undercarriage or planes with variable pitch prop. If people want to do those things, they have to learn and acquire the skill and get the endorsement that they have done the needful. When we pass a test, be it as a pilot or a driver, we do not suddenly and magically acquire the experience that will enable us to cope with everything that we will meet during our career in charge of a vehicle; that has to be learned.

We have to look at whether there are ways in which we can sensibly help people to make progress safely. I do not speak for my party on the matter, but I very much support the idea that we should have graduated training. I accept that that affects young people in particular, and in rural areas—such as I represent—there are particular challenges, because the car is an important transport vehicle for young people. However, we can do it and I think that we have to look at it further.

Frustration, on the A9 or any other road, is never an excuse for creating an accident or the possibility of an accident. We cannot imagine just that engineering solves the problem; we have to look at the drivers as well. We do not have all the powers to do that, but I hope that there will be willingness from elsewhere to help on that.


S4M-12670 Scotland’s Place in Europe

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12670, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on Scotland’s place in Europe.

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

In the same way as others did, I campaigned in the 1975 referendum that Harold Wilson called to solve internal political difficulties in the Labour Party, which was then the party of government. The result was a yes vote. My party took a position against because of the sell-out of the fishing industry but, for my part, I was always firmly on the yes side and voted accordingly with a heavy heart, knowing that I was disagreeing with my party.

Of course, 1975 was not the start of the story. The UK joined the then European Economic Community in 1973 under a Tory Prime Minister, but things go somewhat further back than that. A UK member of Parliament who had been a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials was the moving spirit behind the European convention on human rights. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister who took the UK into that, and he was a proud signatory to the convention when it came into operation on 3 September 1953.

Of course, it goes back further than that. In 1320, when Scotland sought to protect its independence, it was to the Pope in Rome that Scotland wrote, because the Pope was not simply the head of a church; he also had a key secular role in co-ordinating international relationships. Scotland is no stranger to Europe and has no distant connection with it. Scotland has always had an intimate connection with Europe.

Jamie McGrigor and others derided the idea of four-nation consent, saying among other things that it would be inconceivable for different parts of the UK to go different ways. However, that is to neglect what has already happened. In 1982, Greenland—an autonomous country within Denmark—voted to leave the EU, and by 1985 it successfully did so, despite having that relationship. I do not commend that approach, because I would wish to stay in Europe, but Greenland’s choice was to go. The example shows that it is entirely possible for there to be different decisions and different effects even within a single existing member state.

Jamie McGrigor also seemed to imply that Spain should withdraw access to benefits from the nearly 1 million UK citizens who live in that country.

Reference has been made to Norway and Switzerland. For a while, one of my nieces lived in Norway—and commuted daily to Sweden to work, I may say, never showing her passport or anything else at a European boundary, which I thought was quite interesting. There is certainly increasing disquiet in Norway, first at the economic contribution that it requires to make to the European Union as a price for being in the European Economic Area, but also at its having to be bound by the rules of the European Union while having no say in how they work.

We heard someone say that France is substantially more centralised than the UK. I think that that will come as a great surprise to many people in France. Gabriel Chevallier’s satirical novel of 1934, “Clochemerle”, which was made into a successful TV series in 1972, was all about the local mayor wanting to build a new—forgive me, Presiding Officer; this is literally what he said—pissoir in the town square, and to this day there is considerable local authority in the towns and villages of France. Indeed, in the real life Clochemerle—Vaux-en-Beaujolais—the mayor is there every Thursday for two hours while she takes her lunch and eats her sandwiches; in that tiny little village, she is there. France is a far less centralised country than we might imagine if we listen to some people in this debate.

I turn to the amendments. For the most part, I could find myself being relatively comfortable with the Labour Party’s amendment, but it fails to understand the reality of the UK’s engagement with the European Union when it states at the end:

“believes that the UK should lead ... as a strong member of the EU.”

The one thing that the UK is not is

“a strong member of the EU.”

The UK has never, to this day, properly engaged with the internal workings of the EU. The moment the Irish got in in 1973, they sent their people across, they got into the grass roots and they were involved in the very early stages of formulating European policy. The UK has always waited until the policy has been formed before saying, “This winna do—we’ve got to change it”, by which time it is too late. I suspect that, if the UK had engaged properly, the EU would now be operating in a way that would satisfy many of Jamie McGrigor’s colleagues who are less sympathetic to the idea of the EU—leaving aside its operation—than he is.

In conclusion, I was interested to hear that the Tories are essentially saying, “Let the people speak.” Article 3 of protocol 1 of the ECHR, on elections, means that we have to have democracy. A majority of the UK’s legislators are unelected, so we are in breach of that protocol. I would love to have a referendum on the House of Lords, and I suspect that I know how it would turn out: perhaps that is why the Tories will not have one.


12 March 2015

S4M-12195 The Importance of Libraries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12195, in the name of Colin Beattie, on the importance of libraries. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 7 February 2015 marks National Library Day, a UK-wide day of events that allows users to celebrate libraries and their staff; notes that the events cover a wide range of activities, including book swaps, treasure hunts and author visits; considers that National Library Day is of great importance in highlighting the role that libraries play in communities, including in Midlothian North and Musselburgh; considers that this role can include access to valuable information that would not otherwise be easily accessible to low-income families and households; notes that 3.6% of libraries in Scotland were closed between 2008 and 2013, compared with 7.9% in England and 11% and 11.5% in Wales and Northern Ireland respectively in the same period, and celebrates libraries for their significance in providing culture and education to the people of Scotland.


... ... ...


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

Welcome to this annual meeting of bookaholics not very anonymous. I am very privileged to be part of that group.

Libraries are a valuable source of information. They also protect our heritage over the long term. It is no accident that one of the first things that totalitarian regimes and extremists generally go for is books and libraries. ISIS has destroyed 100,000 books in Mosul in recent weeks. In April 2003, the national library and archive of Iraq—hundreds of thousands of books—was all but lost.

When the Japanese went to China during the second world war, one of their first targets was to destroy books, and more than a million books and documents were destroyed. Of course, in the 1930s, the Nazis notoriously burnt books with which they disagreed.

Books can be radical and extreme and they are highly varied. We should value them in all their variety, because they tell us about where we come from and inform us about where we are going.

Like, I am sure, many other members, I use libraries considerably. The local libraries in Buckie and Fraserburgh play host to my surgeries there. While I am waiting, I can pop next door and see what is going on, read the newspapers that the libraries get or dip into books. Surprisingly, no one so far has mentioned the National Library of Scotland, which is absolutely—[Interruption.] I beg members’ pardon; it has been signalled that I was not listening correctly. I have my reading card for the National Library of Scotland with me. Disappointingly, I note that it is due for renewal on general election day, so I have a suspicion that I might not manage to get along that day to renew it.

In places such as the National Library of Scotland, there are unique opportunities to find out information that can be found nowhere else. I am interested in genealogy—both my own and other people’s. I know that my great-grandfather earned £70 a year in 1862 as a missionary for the Scottish Coast Mission. There seem to be only four pieces of paper left about that institution, and one of them—an annual report that shows how much my great-grandfather earned—is in the National Library of Scotland. Archives and libraries go hand in hand. I have a tiny bit of paper showing that my great-great-great-grandfather served in the Navy. I was able to go to the Public Record Office at Kew and get the ship’s logs from 1780, when he served on HMS Medway.

Let us have a wee think about the electronic world. The National Library of Scotland is doing a great deal to address the transient nature of so much of our electronic information. I invite Liam McArthur to think carefully about whether the modern electronic world is better than the paper world that we have been used to. Whenever I can, I sit in a bath with a cup of tea and a book in my hand. I can assure members that my wife sweats less when I drop a book in the bath, because a hairdryer is all that is needed to remedy that, but dropping an e-book in the bath is another matter altogether, not because of the electrical implications but because the e-book tends to suffer a bit.

I congratulate Colin Beattie on giving us the opportunity to think about literature and libraries. I hope that we will hear some interesting things from the cabinet secretary about the future security of our library services.


10 March 2015

S4M-12587 Oil and Gas Sector (Support)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-12587, in the name of John Swinney, on action that is needed to support the oil and gas sector.

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

The debate has been interesting and there has been some measure of agreement.

I will start by offering a slight olive branch to Patrick Harvie. It is quite clear that crude oil has been vital for transport for the past 100 years, but it is equally clear that in well under the next 100 years we will have—because we will have had to—weaned ourselves off crude oil playing that particular role. However, oil will remain of substantial commercial value; it will remain central to developed economies around the world, not as a fuel for transport but as a chemical feedstock. The progress that we have made in trying to replace crude oil as a chemical feedstock is substantially less than the progress that we have made in replacing it in transport.

Patrick Harvie: Stewart Stevenson makes a very fair point. We have made a lot less progress than we need to in replacing hydrocarbons for those other uses. Is he really suggesting that although the already-high prices that are being spent on extracting ever harder to reach oil will be viable once fuel is no longer a legitimate use for those substances?

Stewart Stevenson: That will play out however it plays out. The balance of my view is that the price of oil will continue to rise and that we will continue to find that it is, for some time to come, the most economic solution to many of our needs. We will have to divert investment into finding out how to replace oil as feedstock, but it will take a long time.

Some technological things will happen that will help all that. One is that communications will improve. We will have videoconferencing via hologram that will, essentially, be just like sitting in the same room as the other people. We will travel less for fewer purposes. Yes—we have to reduce our consumption of non-renewable material, but we will find that technology will help us do that.

It is not easy to look forward. Churchill said—I do not think that he was the first person to say it—that prediction is difficult, especially about the future. We certainly know that there will be a $100 barrel price in the future. We certainly expect that there will be a $200 barrel price in the future and we should not be surprised by a $300 barrel price in the future. However, nobody here can tell us with any certainty when any of those things will happen. If I could work out when, I would end up a very wealthy man indeed.

The uncertainty is not so much in the pricing as in the timing. That is precisely why in what one might term the economically good times in the oil industry we must store up the nuts to feed us through the bad times. That is what works. It is worth saying that the proportion of Norway’s gross domestic product that is down to the industry is more than two and a half times that of Scotland. They are very different and yet, in respect of the pain that Norway is experiencing now, it is able to ride over the difficulties because it has stored away the nuts in the appropriate way, as a squirrel would to prepare for winter.

Michael McMahon quite properly highlighted the dangers of over-reliance on one industry and, indeed, the first law of epigenetics is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it will be affected by a change in that environment. There is an intrinsic value in diversity rather than specialism, although specialism gives great short-term benefits.

Mr McMahon spoiled his speech a bit by saying that Norway has no motorway system. He obviously has not been there. Yes, that is true, but they have the most wonderful ferry system and the most wonderful network of regional airports that get people around. That is related to the geography of Norway, which I know very well because my niece stayed in Norway for many years.

The real legacy of oil is not the black stuff that comes out of the ground: some 50 per cent of the value that we get from the industry involves exports not of oil, but of skills and talent. The reservoir of skills in our communities in Scotland, the north of England and beyond is substantial. The N-56 report suggests that Brazil will be spending £250 billion on the industry over the four years from 2013 to 2017, and a report from Scottish Development International this month says that Scotland is widely admired around the world for its expertise.

The resilience that we have heard about is about controlling the nuts that we put aside in the good times. The trouble is that Lewis Macdonald confirmed that oil would not be paying for the resilience fund, even though it is precisely the thing that should be.

Before I talk about engineers, I should declare my membership of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. We have huge talent and skills here, but we do not recognise them properly in a professional way. The Germans elevate engineers to a much higher social standing and give them much more academic support. We probably have to do the same. Our engineers can develop oil elsewhere and can become engaged with offshore construction for wind and tidal energy and in engineering projects in general, such as those involving the extraction of water, which will become increasingly important. We have the skills and the talent. Half of the value of our industry is being drawn from offshore to onshore. The issue now lies in our people, and we must ensure that we support them.


05 March 2015

S4M-12521 Protecting Public Services and Boosting Scotland’s Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on S4M-12521, in the name of John Swinney, on protecting public services and boosting Scotland’s economy.


... ... ...

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

I want to respond to Alex Rowley’s challenge by agreeing with him on much of the analysis. I will come to the conclusions a little bit later.

An announcement on schools that has been made today by the Scottish Government illustrates, I think, the approach that it is taking. As we know, the Government has reached agreement with all the local authorities to maintain teacher numbers, which is important if we are to train the next generation. The £100 million to improve educational attainment in Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities that was announced last month reinforces what we are doing, and the £21 million that has been announced today for the construction of new school facilities is very much to be welcomed. This Government is addressing the issue of raising the attainment levels of people in communities across Scotland, and the schools for the future programme will create 100 new schools over its length.

We know that the Scottish Government has a view about what should be happening in the UK and the effects that that should have in Scotland; indeed, John Swinney referred to the £180 billion more that we should be spending. It is worth looking at what the OBR has to say about the UK Government’s policy; it says that it will result in cuts of around £94 billion in day-to-day spending on public services. Of course, that does not mean very much—I have never seen £94 billion sitting in a pile—but when we think about it as £1,800 a head we realise why there is such a fiscal drag on the domestic economy for far too many people in our country.

I have a proposal, although I am not certain whether it will be welcomed by the cabinet secretary. In planning our expenditure, we might think about projects that have a particular characteristic that I have not heard discussed very much. We should probably try to spend more of our money on smaller projects, which would enable more of the money to be retained in communities. The big projects will always attract international competition, which brings with it the risk that more of the money will go elsewhere. With smaller projects, more of the money is likely to stay in our local communities, which would perhaps address the issues behind some of the points that Alex Rowley made.

Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP): Although that analysis seems very plausible, I put it to Stewart Stevenson that experience tells us that contracts tend to go to contractors who have the longest balance sheet. Those are by definition the biggest contractors, who may well just displace the smaller businesses that should be winning the contracts.

Stewart Stevenson: Nigel Don is perfectly correct: the strategy is not without risk and we cannot, under competition law, cut large companies out of bidding for small contracts. Inevitably, however, if one has to transport people and goods across the country to work on a small contract, the overhead costs rise, so there is an intrinsic advantage in looking at small contracts.

I will talk about tertiary education, having said a little bit about primary and secondary education. I absolutely welcome the increase in modern apprenticeship places from 15,000 to 25,000, and the objective to raise that number to 30,000. Alex Rowley mentioned a shortage of skilled electricians. Engineering companies in my constituency report skills shortages too, mainly because people are poached for other, more highly paid posts. The focus on delivering employability through the modern apprenticeship scheme and through our colleges is extremely good news.

It is always interesting in a debate when one finds that the amendments from all the Opposition parties simply seek to delete everything that the Government says in its motion after the words, “That the Parliament”. That tells us something about the nature of the debate, but nonetheless I will attempt to create some consensus.

Let us look at which bits the Opposition amendments seek to take out of the motion. All the amendments seek to remove the words

“welcomes the additional £180 billion of investment”


“endorses the approach of the Scottish Government”—[Interruption.]

We hear from members on the Tory benches that they do not welcome £180 billion of investment.

We have heard in the debate about some of the effects that we are seeing. We heard a bit about the minimum wage, which did not rise in line with inflation in three of the last four years of the Westminster Labour Government. The Labour amendment states that the party

“will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, with rules introduced to give new rights to employees on these contracts”.

Jackie Baillie, contrary to her claim in her speech that the Labour Party is abolishing zero-hours contracts, is simply creating a new version of zero-hours contracts for the future. She can argue for that if she wishes, but I have not heard that argument.

The Labour amendment also states that the party

“rejects full fiscal autonomy in favour of the continuation of the Barnett formula”.

However, Ed Balls said in 2011 that the Barnett formula

“was never intended to be long term”,

and added:

“We are getting to the point where it needs to be looked at again”.

The ambiguities in Labour’s position on all that are substantial indeed.

I have been reading today about blue Labour and Jon Cruddas, who was elected to Westminster on the same day that I came here in June 2001 and has just been praising the Tories’ City agenda.

This Government has a substantial record of achievement in plugging many of the problems that are created by Westminster. For example, we are plugging the gap in the council tax benefit budget.

We are also plugging the gap on the bedroom tax.

I am delighted with what we are doing with more powers. My delight could soar to greater levels, and I look forward to that happening.


03 March 2015

S4M-12191 Celebrating Mary Slessor on International Women's Day 2015

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12191, in the name of Jenny Marra, on celebrating Mary Slessor on international women’s day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the centenary of the death of Mary Slessor, the missionary who left the slums of Dundee at the age of 28 and went on to save hundreds of lives and promote women’s rights in Calabar in Nigeria; commends the Mary Slessor Foundation’s work with a number of people, companies and organisations throughout Dundee and beyond to organise a series of events throughout the centenary year; welcomes the launch of these events with the unveiling of a commemorative standing stone and plaque in front of Dundee’s Steeple Church; recognises Mary Slessor’s importance as a historical figure as a Scot, a woman and the first female magistrate in the British Empire, and considers that her accomplishments should especially be highlighted on International Women’s Day 2015 to celebrate her work in helping create a future for women that is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.


... ... ...

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

I thank Jenny Marra for giving us the opportunity to celebrate the life of one of Scotland’s best-known and most important daughters and, more generally, international women’s day.

Not many Victorian lassies who were born in Aberdeenshire and brought up in the slums of Aberdeen and Dundee earned a state funeral at the other end of their lives, ended up a member of the Order of St John or were a magistrate, which was pretty much exceptional in Victorian times. As we have heard, the Clydesdale Bank put her on one of its banknotes. Of course, I have a special interest because her alcoholic father came from Buchan in my constituency. We will all claim our little connections, because there is nothing so nice as the reflected glory of a true hero.

In 2007, Maureen Watt held an event in the Parliament to celebrate the life of Mary Slessor, and many members signed a motion about that at the time. It is good to come back to the issue on the anniversary of her death. Her life was not easy. It is clear that, when her father died in September 1870 at 6 Eliza Street in Dundee, she was not living in the most prosperous of circumstances, as that was not a part of Dundee where the rich lived. Four years later, when David Livingstone died, she was then only 25 years old. Her life was set by her experience of deprivation, her Christian faith and the inspiration that came from David Livingstone.

The Mary Slessor Foundation, which today supports her memory, has been responsible for many things. For example, money has been raised for the foundation by a play about her life, “Mother of All the Peoples”, which has been performed all over Scotland. I hope that it continues to inform people across Scotland about the inspiration that comes from Mary Slessor’s life.

I am pleased to hear that a commemorative standing stone and plaque now stand in front of Dundee’s Steeple church. There were previous plans to have a memorial in Aberdeen, although I am not sure that they came to fruition. Mary spent most of her life there, and it was probably more formative than her time in the north, so it is important that Dundee celebrates her life.

Mary Slessor was quite different and disjointed from women of her time. We have heard that she dressed, ate and drank in the way that the people in Nigeria she supported did. More fundamentally, she learned to speak the native language. For me, as someone who is no linguist of any great merit, that particularly stood out because, of course, she had to learn it from the people she was supporting—there was no one in particular to teach her. The inspection that took place in the early 1880s commented on the friendship that she had with the people and the fact that she had that language, which helped her in her work.

We have heard something of other women and I will say just a little bit about women in my former profession of software engineering.

Women have played a remarkable and substantial role in today’s computer technology. Ada Lovelace, who was the daughter of Lord Byron, was Charles Babbage’s programmer and is the first identified programmer.

Grace Hopper, who worked for the United States navy, retired three times and was begged to come back each time. When she finally retired, having been made a rear admiral by the US President, she was 80 years old and went to work for the remainder of her life for a computer company. She is responsible for the fact that we talk about bugs in programs because she coined that phrase.

I remember hearing on a flight about 25 years ago, although I cannot remember where, the announcement that it was the first commercial flight operated from Scotland on which all the crew members were female—those in the back of the plane and in the front of the plane. It is sad that it took that length of time before women were given even that modest recognition.

Mary Slessor did a lot for people in Scotland and in Africa, and it is right that we celebrate her life.


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