28 May 2015

S4M-13158 Peat (Extraction for Horticulture)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Moving swiftly on, the next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-13158, in the name of Rob Gibson, on peat extraction for horticulture. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of peatlands for biodiversity, carbon and water and also toward cultural identity and in serving as historical archives and notes the view that stronger measures are needed to end the commercial extraction of peat for horticulture in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and across the country to ensure the restoration and protection of peatlands and to help develop a long-term viable industry that can provide sustainable soil and growing conditions to help amateur and professional gardeners and growers.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate the champion of the rusty bog moss on securing this debate, and I thank my intern, Shane O’Brien, who did some research for me and provided me with my speaking notes—I did not just conform to stereotypes and ask him to do that because he is from Ireland and I thought that there would be a natural fit.

As others have said, peat is a commodity that we need to protect, particularly in Scotland, where we have vast rural areas that are covered by it. We have about 10 per cent of the world’s blanket bog. With raised bog, those are important parts of our ecosystems.

In global terms, peat is a somewhat rare commodity, which is one of the particular reasons why we should protect it. Others have referred to the very important climate mitigation benefits that are derived from it. Scotland has a special place because of our proportion of peat.

I am a little uncertain—perhaps the minister can clarify this for me—whether the calculation of our carbon impact fully takes account of the contribution that peat makes to the mitigation of the effects of human activity on our climate. That might be a further incentive for us to look closely at the subject.

Originally, peat was essentially a domestic heating product. It is now not a particularly common one. Indeed, I am not aware whether a single house in Scotland is solely reliant on peat for its warmth, but I may find that small numbers of houses are. We can certainly accept that the numbers are not significant. In doing his research for me, Shane O’Brien found that there were certainly none of those on Uist. I am not quite sure why he found that, but he did.

Peat was, of course, a comparatively cheap and available fuel. It was on the doorsteps of many people in parts of Scotland. Along with other primary sources of fuel such as coal, oil and electricity, peat was at one time among our most important fuel sources.

The method of producing peat was through the back-breaking task of cutting out the peat from the peat banks, latterly by using a machine taking smaller slabs as tractors dragged it across, increasing the exploitation and the damage that we are doing to our peat bogs.

Rob Gibson: In this debate, I wanted to focus on horticultural peat and not the extraction of peat for heating homes, because that is a small part of the picture, while extraction for horticulture is a very large industry.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct to focus on that. It is important that we recognise that peat is used for a variety of purposes. The debate focuses on horticultural peat, which we continue to use long after we have passed on from using peat as a fuel.

The bottom line is that peat is valuable to us. It has effects on our everyday lives. When we take it out for horticulture produce, we diminish its ability to contribute in other areas of our lives. Claudia Beamish referred to its filtering effects and benefits to the water supply. Those of us who enjoy the occasional malt whisky particularly benefit from the use of a small amount of peat in that industry.

More interestingly, the existence of peat bogs touches significantly on natural ways of mitigating the effects of flooding. When we extract peat for horticulture, it has much wider effects than perhaps many of our urban dwellers are likely to be aware of. They will participate in recreational use of peatlands, such as angling and walking, for a uniquely Scottish experience.

I hope that the Government will look to reduce the use of peat in compost. The damaging impacts need to be reduced. We need to substitute peat in our horticultural products. I give all my support to the motion that Rob Gibson has brought to us today.


27 May 2015

S4M-13258 Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13258, in the name of Patrick Harvie, on stage 1 of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

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

I find myself the 32nd speaker in the debate. It is a well-balanced, well-organised debate and the Presiding Officers deserve congratulations.

I recognise the integrity of members who are on the other side of the argument from me. How we support our fellow citizens as their faculties decline with age, infirmity or disease is a genuine issue that grows greater with time as medical science and practice change.

I agree with Patrick Harvie’s sentiments, if not all his words, when he criticised the present arrangements as

“the most open and ill-defined legislative framework that we could possibly have”.—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 13 January 2015; c 12.]

However, I have come to a different answer to that conundrum from him. As the last speaker before him, I will try to sum up some of my responses to what has happened in the debate.

In particular, I found fascinating Richard Simpson’s description of the contribution of a profoundly disabled individual who was dying. He emphasised the significance of that person’s contribution. I and, I think, others in the debate fear that a measure such as the bill might deprive us all of the benefit of such opportunities.

I took from what Alison McInnes said—not her words—that she was concerned about the normalisation of suicide. Again, that concern applies to many of us.

George Adam, who is on the other side of the argument from me, powerfully said that the potentially bereaved should not oblige the terminally ill to live on. That is an absolutely fair point. Liam McArthur expressed it slightly differently when he said that the right to life is not a duty to live.

Michael McMahon powerfully informed the debate by quoting Professor Boer’s journey from support for assisted suicide, through examining the practical effects, to opposition to it.

From the start, my instinctive reaction was to oppose the proposal. I was brought up in a doctor’s household, steeped in support for life, compassion and assistance for the dying, so it could hardly be otherwise.

My father was proud to live and work under the strictures of the Hippocratic oath that he took as a medical student, which not all medical students took or take. The origin of that oath in a Greek cult that focused on excluding patients from doctors’ decisions about their future and keeping secret the details of the medicines used in their treatment is hardly an encouraging basis for decision making.

By the time my father took the oath, it was seen more simply and had discarded its primary objectives of protecting the physician’s monopoly and preserving the secrecy of his or her methods. It used to say:

“I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

The physicians who continue to wrestle with the issue are, in the bill, confronted with a choice between helping people who can have a quality of life before them and assisting people who wish to leave life a bit early.

In the past, it was simple enough—doctors did not need to struggle to maintain life when life itself would not do so. Those without perception of the world in which we live and those without prospect of resuming a meaningful quality of life need not be treated. Nature could follow its course.

Nanette Milne mentioned the doctor-patient relationship. At critical times in our lives, our relationship with doctors is very asymmetric. We throw ourselves into their hands, and we may be insensible of the life-sustaining or life-threatening actions that they have taken to promote what they understand to be our best interests.

I congratulate those who have wrestled with the issue in committee. They have risen to the challenge, and their report is a model of clarity, with integrity of reasoning. It informs us and, like many of the speakers in the debate, it makes it clear that, at best, the bill leaves unanswered questions. Others have described it as fatally flawed, and I share that analysis.

This is not a whipped debate; rather, it is one in which we must all individually engage with what is before us. We must make our individual decision and be accountable for it. We are talking about people’s lives.

I have talked with the dying about their end. I have agreed actions, and inaction, with relatives and friends about their future and about my future. I have sat at the bedside of death. I have laid out the dead. For me, death is no passing stranger—I will not be alone in the chamber in saying that.

At the end of what has essentially been a discussion with myself, I have found that it boils down to the simplest of questions. How would I feel if I knew that the doctor approaching me to provide treatment in my extremity had assisted another to an early exit from life when I so eagerly wanted to stay? Even the slightest appearance of a doctor’s bias towards death would damage my relationship with that professional. Therefore, I will follow my instincts and vote against the bill.


26 May 2015

S4M-13246 Education (Equity and Excellence)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-013246, in the name of Angela Constance, on equity and excellence in education.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): It is interesting to hear echoes in the debate. Cara Hilton has just mentioned Queen Anne school, where my mother started teaching 85 years ago. Her first year’s wages were £36, which was not a great deal of money then and sounds even less now.

We are a different Parliament to that which we see down south. Most of us went to our local school and we have had some exposure to the subject that is under discussion—albeit that I left school in 1964 and I can see other members who might have left at a similar time or even earlier, so we are probably significantly out of date. That said, even then we saw change. In 1962, I was in the first fourth-year cohort to sit ordinary grade exams. They were introduced in that year and as fourth and fifth years, who would previously have sat lower grade exams to complement the highers, we were the first to sit the ordinary grade. There has been change in the system for many years.

As we always will do in such debates, we have talked a bit about money. It is interesting to note that the average spending per primary school pupil in Scotland is nearly £400 higher than it is in England, and in secondary education, it is approaching £300 higher. Some of the reasons for that can be geographic, and some of our schools are smaller and the overheads are therefore higher, but we have seen expenditure in education rise by about 4.5 per cent since the Scottish National Party has been in Government. I do not think that we should imagine that throwing more money at education while doing the same things is likely to lead to significantly different outcomes.

The motion and amendments that are before us are interesting. The Government says that there is

“much to be proud of in Scotland’s schools”

and who could disagree? The Labour Party

“welcomes the Scottish Government’s attainment fund and widening access commission”

and it is good that it does so. The Liberal Democrats, like Harry Burns, the former chief medical officer, focus on the early part of life.

I want to talk about a few eclectic things that matter to me. Willie Coffey talked derisively about Turing, but the Turing test is one of the most important tests in artificial intelligence and, of course, the first book on artificial intelligence was written in Edinburgh in the early 1970s. The Turing test was developed in 1950 by Alan Turing. I am a great fan of Alan Turing and of many other things.

I confess that I am currently a student: I am doing an online course to improve my genealogical skills—a hobby I have had for more than 50 years—through the University of Strathclyde. I do not visit the university; I spend so many hours on the train each week that I can do my studying then with a few hours on a Saturday and Sunday night online. The world of learning has changed dramatically; my lifelong learning is quite different from that of previous generations.

As somebody who studied mathematics, I am naturally interested in how we deal with numbers. I am currently reading a book on quantum mechanics and steeping myself in Einstein, Dirac, Pauli, Schrödinger and many other great luminaries of the 20th century. I admire the work of many of the women in computing, including Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who was, in the modern era, probably the first computer programmer and, of course, Ada Lovelace, who was Byron’s niece and the programmer for Babbage in the 19th century.

I ask the cabinet secretary why we do not put some money aside for some relatively small-scale but long-run tests of different approaches. I have raised previously the Trachtenberg system of speed mathematics, which is a terrific system that was developed by a Jew in a concentration camp during the last war. It enables children to develop their memory and mental arithmetic skills. I used it on a previous occasion to demonstrate that 240 is 1,099,511,627,776, which, of course, we can immediately work out is the square of 1,048,576.

The real point about that is that if we add the digits in 1,048,576, we find that, if we keep adding them up, we get 4. Multiply 4 by 4 and we get 16, and add 1 and 6 together, we get 7. Keep adding the digits of 1,099,511,627,776 together and we end up with 7. In other words, it is not just about doing the arithmetic but about having checking systems. Other countries use the Trachtenberg system to good effect.

I also look to the work of Tony Buzan and the mind-mapping approach that he has developed to memory work. It may be worth equipping children with specific skills in improving their memory.

I echo what others have said about diversity in education being well worth having. I was a very poor student at all stages of my educational career, but I studied maths, natural philosophy, chemistry, psychology, geology, logic and metaphysics, French, Latin, English, biology, geography and history at various times—and I am amazed by how useful I find much of that learning to be.

This is a good and timely debate. The Government accepts the nature of the challenge; I hope that it demonstrates that it is open to other ways forward, and to diversity, as we work our way towards new solutions for those who are most disadvantaged in our communities.


21 May 2015

S4M-12535 Fire Sprinklers

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12535, in the name of Clare Adamson, on the Scottish fire sprinkler co-ordination group. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Fire Sprinkler Coordination Group to the Parliament for its awareness-raising event on 21 May 2015; notes the success of the Fire Sprinklers in Residential Premises (Scotland) Bill in securing a commitment from the administration in relation to the fitting of automatic fire sprinklers to all new care homes and sheltered housing developments following the tragic deaths at Rosepark Care Home in Uddingston; welcomes all developments that improve fire safety, and recognises that several countries, such as Finland, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand, have begun retrofitting automatic sprinklers to buildings.

... ... ...

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

I add my congratulations to Clare Adamson on bringing this important topic to Parliament today.

It is an interesting subject. I remember that—I think about 10 years ago—Stewart Maxwell MSP and I went to see a demonstration of a sprinkler system in Hamilton. We saw a before and after; we saw a fire without a sprinkler system and then we saw the very different effect of the same fire when it was operated on by a sprinkler. I was left in no doubt whatever about the efficacy of what is actually quite a cheap intervention.

I said “cheap intervention”. Let me defend that. Take the average cost of even retrofitting a sprinkler system to a house. What is that comparable to? It is comparable to the cost of putting in a new gas boiler. It is comparable to the cost of the new generation of high-definition 55-inch televisions, which many people choose to buy. It is not all that different to the cost of insurance for a youngster with their first car—if it is other than a Fiat 500. The cost ought not to be the immediate barrier to our considering a sprinkler system.

We have heard from Dave Stewart—I have also seen the figure elsewhere—that 100 UK deaths each year occur without fire detection systems. How much is a death worth? To the family who experience loss, no financial price can be put on it, but let us take the kind of figures that are generally used. If we assume that we would reduce deaths by two-thirds by having sprinkler systems installed universally, we are looking at a saving, based on the amounts that are set against people’s lives, that would pay for 13,000 houses a year across the UK—that is not a figure for Scotland. There is a direct and simple financial relationship, but if we want to be analytical there are other savings to be made.

Fewer fires, fewer deaths and a reduction in the impact of fires represent a saving for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and for the insurance industry, which means that it would reduce premiums. For the householder, it is likely that installation of sprinklers would be reflected by increased value of the house when it comes up for sale. This figure is a little out of date—I do not have the current figure—but five or six years ago the average mortgage length was only seven years, which gives one a sense of how quickly one might see a return on that sort of investment.

Simultaneously with thinking about the benefits and the cost benefits of installing sprinkler systems, we should think about what brings about risk of household fires. There has been an increase in consumption of alcohol in Scotland; when people are less sensible of their actions, the risk of fire and a range of other risks increase. That gives further weight to the actions to address the problem of alcohol abuse, which have received broad support from across the Parliament.

We have taken great steps in respect of smoking. I, again, give absolute credit to Jack McConnell for his bravery with regard to smoking legislation. There has been a reduction in the amount of smoking, and that is good. However, I have a little niggle in my mind about the possibility that the fact that smoking has become less acceptable in public might mean that there is more smoking in homes, which might be an issue with regard to the subject of this debate.

I am told that there are representatives of the insurance industry in the public gallery today. I agree that we would expect the cost of insurance to go down when a sprinkler system is installed. However, the sprinkler system itself is a form of insurance, and I think that the one saying about insurance that we should always remember is that it is the one product that we cannot buy when we really need it.


20 May 2015

S4M-13203 Scotland’s Economy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13203, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the future of Scotland’s economy.

... ... ...

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

I will posit an approach to how we might deal with the issue that is before us. We should describe the problem, obtain information about it, extract meaningful data and normalise the data across the timeline over which it is spread. From that, we should identify solutions, compare the identified solutions with one another, select solutions to take forward, find the finance and undertake implementation. We should then start again, because it is unlikely that one time round the loop will solve the problem.

One thing that has come out of the debate is that, in our describing of the solutions, there is comparatively little difference between us across the chamber. We accept that there is before us a challenge that will endure over the long term, but we must make progress on it.

We are not doing quite so well at obtaining information. We have a table from Dr Jim Scott’s research, but there is no context.

Johann Lamont: How many times in the past eight years have finding data, interrogating it and finding solutions already been done? The point is not to diss the evidence that somebody has presented but to accept that there is a problem and ask whether we are spending the money on the right things.

I am concerned that SNP back benchers, rather than the cabinet secretary, seem to want to close down the debate and argue about the evidence rather than agree that there is a problem and come to an agreement on what the solutions might be.

Stewart Stevenson: It would be helpful if the member listened to what I said. I acknowledged the challenge that is before us, and I do so again for the hard of heeding, if any thus described are present now.

To return to Dr Scott’s data, such extract from it as there is tells me almost nothing of itself. It tells me nothing because it fails a number of the tests that I described. I accept that it is data. It has a timeline, but I have no knowledge of what normalisation has been done between the different parts of the timeline so that it is proper to compare one year with another.

Neil Findlay: Will Stewart Stevenson take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will make a little progress, but I might come back to Mr Findlay.

I also have no information about the sources of each element of data that is on the single sheet of paper that has been provided.

Neil Findlay: Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: One moment, please.

An academic paper would normally have the information that I mentioned. I expect that the whole paper has it, but I say gently to my Labour colleagues that it would have been helpful to their cause and to good debate if we had had the whole paper.

Neil Findlay: It is abundantly clear that neither Dr Scott nor anyone in the chamber is on the same intellectual wavelength as Mr Stevenson, but that comes as no surprise to any of us. Perhaps, in his wisdom, he could tell us what the problems are in Scottish education. We will all sit here rapt at his intelligence.

Stewart Stevenson: I am conscious that I have six minutes but, although I accept the plaudits that are due more to the genetic inheritance from my parents than my own efforts, I make the point that the real issue on which we all have to engage is that we must make common cause to get the whole picture in front of us so that we can pick out and start to agree on the bits that we want to prioritise.

The Labour Party’s motion moves to solutions. For example, it talks about

“doubling the number of teaching assistants and 10 new literacy teachers in each of the associated primary schools of the 20 high schools facing the greatest challenges”.

I cannot possibly rebut that proposal, because I do not have any of the workings for how we have arrived at it as the magic bullet. By the way, it might be the correct answer. I do not reject it because it has come from the Labour Party, but neither can I accept it, because I have no workings, so I do not know on what axioms it was based, what the in-built assumptions were or even what the policy objectives were in any detail.

I turn to the underlying numbers behind the Labour Party’s proposal. Earlier, I asked how much it would cost to employ a teaching assistant and a literacy teacher. I got a fairly definite £20,000 for the former and a less certain response on the latter.

Iain Gray: Perhaps Mr Stevenson will excuse the memory of an older man. The correct figures are £36,705 for a literacy specialist and £14,880 for a teaching assistant. That includes national insurance and pension payments.

Stewart Stevenson: That is excellent. I will certainly go away and look at that information and I am sure that colleagues will equally do so. However, I say gently that it would be helpful to have such information before a debate rather than when the last back-bench member speaks, and I asked for it earlier in the debate.

In my last 45 seconds, I will illustrate how numbers can mislead. An article in today’s Financial Times says that productivity in the UK is falling and that that is a good thing. The reason is that some of the relatively low-skilled jobs that have been difficult to fill in places such as London are being filled. That is helping the overall economy, even though productivity is going down because those jobs are being filled. That is an example of how numbers can confuse without explanation and discussion. Let us have explanation and discussion.


19 May 2015

S4M-12302 World Whisky Day 2015

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12302, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on world whisky day 2015. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the 4th World Whisky Day will take place on 16 May 2015; understands that this global celebration of whisky last year saw 250,000 people attend whisky-themed events in over 40 countries; notes that the event is now managed by the Edinburgh-based Hot Rum Cow Publishing, supported by the founder of World Whisky Day, Blair Bowman; considers that World Whisky Day provides an amazing opportunity to highlight and promote Scotland’s national drink, and raises a dram to the event’s continued success.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Last in the open debate—although I am sure not least—is Stewart Stevenson.

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

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer; I will try not to let you down.

I am pleased in particular that world whisky day is now anchored in the calendar for years ahead as the third Saturday in May. That will be a huge disappointment for Sarah Boyack, because it will not be on her birthday until 2020. The rest of us, however, will celebrate the day every year—on 21 May next year, then on 20 May and so on and so forth.

The day will come two Saturdays after the next Scottish parliamentary election, when there will be those of us who are celebrating a release from this place and those of us who are celebrating our reappointment to this place. Some might be celebrating their departure with less than a glad spirit, but we will all have an excuse to taste one of Scotland’s finest materials.

Mary Scanlon talked about Bill Walker’s act of Parliament. That is trivial by comparison with the Immature Spirits (Restriction) Act 1915, which my father’s cousin James Stevenson took through the Westminster Parliament. That act is responsible for whisky under three years old not being permitted to be sold, which has created the quality that we depend on in the industry today.

Like others, I congratulate Kevin Stewart on securing the debate. It is timely, appropriate and interesting, and I will go away having learned something.

Mary Scanlon spoke about the distilleries on Islay. I am a private pilot and one of the things about flying to Islay is that all the distilleries have their names painted in huge letters on their roofs. Air traffic control at the airport on Islay navigates aircraft to the airport by reference to the distilleries’ names, on the basis that pilots can look out of the window and see that they are at the right one. That helps many people who have to be stone cold sober in what they do.

Kevin Stewart mentioned Antarctica but did not tell us the whole story. There were two events on Antarctica. One was at Davis station, which is one of the few places in the world without a postcode. On 16 May, between 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock, the expedition team celebrated world whisky day by hosting a whisky appreciation evening, when it sampled a variety of whiskies from the personal collections of the wintering expedition team. At Mawson station, between 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock, there was a whisky tasting between each course of dinner.

Around the world, people have been celebrating, including people in Nairobi, Kenya, and people in Cambodia, in the warehouse in Siem Reap’s old market area. In Kiev—troubled as Ukraine currently is—people were able to make time in Sofiivs’ka Street for whisky tasting. In a traditional gentleman’s bar in my niece’s home town of Townsville in Queensland, there was a whisky menu from which one could select a wide range of whiskies.

I am surprised that an event in this city has not been mentioned. At the Coach House at Newliston, under the aegis of the Edinburgh School of Food & Wine, there was a gourmet cookery school for men—that particularly attracted my attention—where a one-day cookery course was followed by a tutored whisky tasting. I am sure that that would have been an excellent event. However, I particularly favoured a Glasgow event called “Spirit of Independence Tasting”. To be fair, that was not a political reference; it was about the independent distilleries that are not owned by the big boys. People there seem to have had a terrific time, if the adverts are anything to go by.

I am jealous of Mary Scanlon and even more jealous of my colleague to the west of me, Richard Lochhead, who will respond to the debate. I celebrated world whisky day on Saturday with a refreshing draught of anCnoc from the distillery at Knock. I welcome the constituency boundary changes in 2011 that gave me that distillery to add to the couple that I already had, but I am looking forward to making a takeover bid for Moray at the next election, because I want more of them. You cannae get enough.


S4M-13196 Allied Health Professionals

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13196, in the name of Maureen Watt, on allied health professionals—enabling active and independent living.

... ... ...

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

Before I get into the centrality of what I want to say, I will address one or two things that have been said in the debate so far.

I might be wrong, but Jenny Marra seemed to imply that each type of AHP should be represented on local boards. [Interruption.] I am glad to see her indicating that she did not intend to say that, because the smaller that a board is, the more effective it is. Simple arithmetic tells us why that should be so: if there are three people on a board, there are three links between them; if there are six people, there are 15 links; if there are nine, there are 42 links; and if there are a dozen, there are 74 links. That is why, as boards get larger, they slow down and impede delivery.

Jenny Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab): For clarity, it was not my intention to suggest that every allied health professional should be represented on every board. As Maureen Watt and I made clear, there are many allied health professionals. However, it would perhaps be useful to have some representation of them as a group.

Stewart Stevenson: I understand where Jenny Marra is coming from. That is a helpful clarification, but I do not think that boards are about the representation of anybody; I think that they are about getting the right mix of skills, knowledge and experience. That is likely to lead to AHPs being on them, but I do not think that they should have a right to be on them simply because they are AHPs.

I now turn to the subject itself and will not get too bogged down in managementspeak, which we might otherwise do.

I think that the casework that we do as constituency and regional members gives us a pretty good insight into the issues that we are discussing. People—particularly older people—rarely come to us with an issue that fits simply into the Scottish Parliament’s responsibilities. The issues that older people, in particular, have touch on the responsibilities of Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the council, and our job is to tease out the issues and find out who can help. The whole debate around breaking down barriers therefore gets to the essence of what is required. A member’s role in dealing with constituency casework is to do that; that is also the role of allied health professionals and everyone involved in social care and the health service.

Jim Hume talked about psychiatric help, and I absolutely agree with him. I was particularly pleased that the child and adolescent mental health services workforce has risen by 24 per cent in the past five and a half years or so, providing important extra help for young people with mental health problems.

It is also important to look at what AHPs do. When my father became a general practitioner in the 1940s, and during most of his working life in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there were not many formally recognised AHPs around. My father was probably slightly unusual in that he used to send those for whom he felt he could not do very much to people such as chiropractors, which was somewhat frowned upon by his professional colleagues, but it worked for a proportion of the people whom he sent. Of course, things are much better now, because there are formal qualifications, training and protocols for educating those in that discipline, and in many others, in the range of support that we can provide. The whole point about how we work together now is that it is based on evidence-based models of practice, and is focused on rehabilitation after illness or difficulties of one sort or another.

Integrating social care and healthcare is important. We have the benefit of a progress report from February, which tells us some interesting things. First of all, it tells us about the local delivery plans. We have planning down at the grass roots, but planning is the easy bit; it is delivering on the content of the plan that is difficult. I have spent much of my life managing large projects, and my guru was Professor Fred P Brooks, who wrote the wonderful book, “The Mythical Man-Month”. His advice to anybody who is involved in a project of any kind is, “Just do it, and cut the size of your team if you want to do it fast.”

Some of the interesting things in the progress report have come up in Parliament before. For example, there has been substantial progress on foot care guidelines. That sounds like a simple, little thing—I know that Mary Scanlon has spoken about it on a number of occasions over the past decade—but if we keep people moving, their health improves, they can go to the shops and their social interactions are better. Sometimes quite straightforward interventions can make a difference, so it is good to see that we are making progress on that. As we get older, the risk of falls grows, and we see progress on that, but there are also opportunities for further progress.

The Labour Party’s amendment to the motion refers to an audit, but what we might get from an audit is already being delivered. If we have a formal audit and send in the auditors, all that they will do is slow people down and divert effort away from their work, so I think that the choice of word may be wrong. I suggest that, instead of conducting an audit, we should consider doing something that is not currently on the agenda. I encourage the Labour Party and all members to think about perhaps having an improvement service, such as local authorities now have, to ensure that good practice—of which there is plenty within the range of professionals that we are talking about—is picked up, refined and presented to those who will benefit from knowing about the good practice of others. If we are to spend more money on oversight, I suggest that that is more like the kind of thing that we should do.

Like Jayne Baxter, I will draw on my personal experience. About 30 years ago, I had a tingling sensation, starting in the back of my neck. Over a period of months, it eventually reached the outside of my thumb and the outside of a finger. At that point, I decided that it was perhaps time to consult a professional, and I did so.

The moment I described the symptoms, he knew exactly what it was. He offered me three options. He said that I could be sent for an operation to cut a little bit off my spine—I had a trapped nerve and a bit could be cut off; I could have acupuncture; or he could do manipulation. He paused and said, “And I can do the manipulation now.”

I said that we should try manipulation. He sat me on the couch, put his knees on my shoulders, pulled my head up about half an inch, turned it through 90° and folded it forward. There was a great crack. He said, “You’ll be okay, but you’ll be sore for a few days.”

That one intervention, which lasted approximately three minutes, has stood me in good stead for 30 years. That was an allied health professional really doing his job, and I am immensely grateful. I hope that they are all as successful for everybody else.


06 May 2015

S4M-12950 Europe (Rescue of Migrants)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Our next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12950, in the name of Alex Rowley, on thousands of migrants dying attempting to reach Europe each year.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament expresses its shock at the recent loss of life in the Mediterranean sea where almost 400 migrants attempting to reach the EU are believed to have died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya; supports the comments of human rights groups across Europe that have condemned the scrapping of rescue operations in the Mediterranean, which it believes is endangering the lives of thousands of desperate migrants making perilous journeys across the sea; acknowledges the comments of the human rights group, Amnesty International, which stated that “European governments’ on-going negligence towards the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean has contributed to a more than 50-fold increase in migrant and refugee deaths since the beginning of 2015”; believes that the decision of the EU to stop funding Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue mission last year in favour of the surveillance patrols currently being carried out by its border agency, Frontex, is a clear example of its dereliction of duty with regard to this matter; notes the evidence given to the European and External Relations Committee by Pasquale Terracciano, the Italian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who stated “We are pressing to persuade the European Union that there is an external border that is of common interest and should be managed at a common level, we are pressing other partners to make it a European priority and all political pressure is welcome to create awareness of the scale of the phenomenon”, and believes that it is the duty of all EU nations to work together to tackle this humanitarian crisis, the scale of which it considers is causing widespread concern and disbelief in the Cowdenbeath constituency and in communities across Scotland.

... ... ...

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

This is one of the occasions in the hubbub of political debate and disagreement that shows that, actually, all of us politicians here are more united by issues than we are divided by them. I do not expect to hear a contrarian voice on this subject. In the past 24 hours, Al Jazeera has reported that six operations have rescued 600 migrants. The operations mainly involved Italy, but they also involved Malta, which is a very small jurisdiction that has a population similar to Edinburgh’s. I join others in congratulating Alex Rowley on bringing the topic for debate, which is timely, appropriate and necessary.

In its briefing, Amnesty International tells us that

“3.9 million refugees are registered in Syria’s neighbouring countries and Egypt.”

However, since 2013, the EU has offered 40,000 places—one would barely notice that anyone had been removed from those 3.9 million. I say “Well done” to Germany, which provided 30,000 of those places.

Alex Rowley’s motion focuses on the mare nostrum rescue mission, which has been stopped, and its replacement. Amnesty has provided us with a graphic illustration of how our support has reduced. We used to have six helicopters; we now have one. We used to spend £9.5 million; we now spend less than £3 million. Let us get an idea of the scale of that: the amount of money that is being spent on helping people who are escaping from threat, poverty and hunger is less than one tenth of what we spend on providing the free bus pass in Scotland. That is how tiny the amount of money that is being spent to support people in personal extremity is.

Since the support for what is happening in the Mediterranean has reduced and retreated closer to Italy, meaning that help is many times further away from Libya, we have seen a huge increase in the number of casualties that are resulting from the problem.

The right kinds of things are being said. The European Council’s Donald Tusk said that saving lives of innocent people is

“the number one priority for us”,

but when you match words to the deeds it is not all that obvious that we are going—

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will.

Neil Findlay: Does Stewart Stevenson agree that if the EU spent as much time and effort on protecting and enhancing the lives of people across the globe as it does on protecting its own economic interests we would be in a much better place and would not see the catastrophes that we are seeing?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not always agree with Neil Findlay, but he captured the essence of the issue extremely well in that intervention.

I will stick within the strict four minutes that I have been allocated and sum up. In 1947, the Labour Government passed an act to support the Poles, so we know that there is good will among the members to my left. We have also heard good will from Jamie McGrigor on the right. The bottom line is that this must not be a borders issue. It is about common decency and humanity. I support every word of Alex Rowley’s motion.


05 May 2015

S4M-12210 North-east Mosses

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-12210, in the name of Christian Allard, on north-east mosses. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the importance of raised bogs known as mosses to the local eco-systems with unique animal and plant life; notes that the north east has the Arnhall Moss in Westhill and the Portlethen Moss, both of which, it considers, provide an important natural environment for use by local communities; recognises what it sees as the great work of groups such as the Portlethen Moss Conservation Group and the Arnhall Moss Management Advisory Group, who ensure conservation and maintenance of the mosses; understands that local schools have taken part in safaris and tree planting on the mosses facilitated by local rangers who foster understanding and care of the natural heritage in these areas, and welcomes widespread use of the mosses.

... ... ...

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

Christian Allard’s motion invites us to recognise

“the importance of raised bogs known as mosses to the local eco-systems with unique animal and plant life”.

It is quite proper that we do that, particularly in relation to Arnhall moss, which the motion also refers to and which is owned and operated by Aberdeenshire Council.

The council describes Arnhall moss very well in the management plan for the moss and captures what makes it important. The plan says:

“Arnhall Moss ... stands as an isolated ‘green’ island in a sea of urban development.”

That tells us two things. First, it tells us that such provisions as there are to protect Arnhall moss and similar ones are important for the diversity of our ecosystems in Scotland.

I have quoted before the first law of epigenetics, which is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by a change in that environment. In other words, diversity has an intrinsic value that enables the environment to respond to change in a way that it would not were there monocultures and limited diversity. The bog at Arnhall, as elsewhere, fulfils that purpose. More fundamentally, it also fulfils the purpose of supporting people in the local community of Westhill, as Portlethen moss supports the community of Portlethen. Being next to nature benefits human beings. It improves mental health, provides opportunities for physical exercise and gives us access to a wide range of wildlife.

I live 400m from Reidside moss, which is substantially bigger than either of the mosses described in the motion. Arnhall moss is about 10 hectares, while Reidside moss is approaching 100 hectares.

The Arnhall local nature reserve was established in 1992. I have from 1995 a parliamentary answer from Jamie Lindsay in the House of Lords that shows that, as early as that date, Reidside moss—my near neighbour—was being considered for special protection, which was granted in 2004 under the European Union’s Natura 2000 initiative.

The wildlife that we have and which I experience in part from my adjacency to Reidside moss is roe, foxes, weasels, rabbits and a wide range of bird life. That goes from the United Kingdom’s smallest bird, the goldcrest, which is a regular visitor, to what is nearly our biggest bird, the golden eagle, which we get for a few weeks a year—we see the adolescents as they leave the eyrie, which is about 20km away. We have barn owls, too, which delight us overnight.

In bogs, there is a rich diversity of natural life and, more important, a rich diversity of plant life. The presence of water and the high acidity level give us a differentiation in bog life that is important to support the diversity on which we should place great value.

Bogs form part of my family history. My father used to speak of his falling into a bog in the 1930s while wearing his kilt and full military uniform. He did not particularly enjoy that. More recently, I found myself going to Reidside moss when I was searching for a missing cat. That was in December, and I fell through the ice up to my waist. That was probably quite dangerous, if the truth be told.

The mosses—the raised bogs—that we have across Scotland are an important part of Scotland. I am delighted that we are debating the topic. I hope that, although the members here are few in number, what we say will be noticed much more widely than the limited numbers suggest that it might be. I look forward with interest to hearing what the minister will do to help us continue to enjoy the benefits of our local mosses across Scotland and, in particular, in Westhill and Portlethen.


S4M-13046 British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-13046, in the name of Mark Griffin, on the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill. Members may wish to note that British Sign Language interpreters are present in the chamber and will be signing the debate. Members may also wish to note that the Parliament today received an award from Action on Hearing Loss of a charter mark, which is a nationally recognised accreditation for organisations that offer excellent levels of service and accessibility for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

... ... ...

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

The debate is less than half over, yet I already find myself significantly challenged—I have a whole series of questions that I will have to go away and ask myself after the debate, because it has been informative.

There is some doubt on some issues. Siobhan McMahon said that there are 100 BSL speakers for each of the 80 interpreters, but the situation might be even worse than that because, according to the Scottish Parliament information centre, the 2011 census tells us that there are 12,533 households in which someone speaks BSL. That would make the figure one interpreter for every 150 houses in which BSL is spoken. Whatever number is relevant, it is clear that the issue that we properly find ourselves debating is challenging and important.

Using visual communication is not alien to any of us. A shrug of the shoulders is immediately recognised as indicating doubt, rubbing the fingers together in a certain way is recognised to indicate money and there is a well-known hand gesture for “Do you want a drink?” We all have our little bits of personal sign language, but BSL is quite different, because it offers a standardised approach that reaches beyond local variation and culture. Equally, BSL is a language that has slang and rude words that people use when they are speaking to one another in a social setting. In that sense, it is genuinely as rich as any other language.

We have heard it suggested that the list of bodies that will be affected by the bill ought to be looked at. It strikes me that, with some of the bodies concerned, the use of sign language—or, indeed, any language—has legal force. For people who are in court or in front of a tribunal, it is important that there is precision. There is a particular need that must be emphasised in that environment, but in social environments and normal day-to-day commerce perhaps less rigour is required. We need to make sure that, when legal force is required, we have people in place to meet that need.

Dennis Robertson: I advise Stewart Stevenson that members of the BSL community can usually tell which part of Scotland or Britain someone comes from because of the different way in which they use the language. I was taught BSL by someone from Glasgow, and he had to vary the teaching to take account of some of the language differences in Aberdeen. As BSL is a visual language, I could present, but I could not receive.

Stewart Stevenson: I look forward to hearing about the differences between Doric BSL and posh Morningside BSL; perhaps I can do so after the debate.

One or two points have come to me as the debate has developed and I thought about what I might say. Ought we to see, as part of our future planning, a standardised sign that says “BSL spoken here” so that people whose first and preferred language is BSL know where to go? It should be a very simple symbol, by the way, so that someone driving a car can see it in a glance. The letters “BSL” might be good enough alone if they are in a standard format.

A lot of academic research has been done on visual communication. For example, Desmond Morris produced a wonderful book called “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behaviour”, on how we communicate visually. I commend that book to others. I regularly see sign languages during my journeys to Parliament, and, indeed, I have watched BSL conversations in the Parliament chamber’s public gallery that have not attracted the ire of the Presiding Officer, because they have not intruded into the performance here as an oral conversation might do.

People who are visually impaired have huge help, and we can see it. For example, the edges of platforms at railway stations have baubles so that visually impaired people know that they are reaching the edge, and pavements have similar markings. Buses and trains have oral announcements that help the blind. How much are we doing for people who are deaf? So much less. It is important that we consider that there is a category of people in our community with a particular language who have been significantly neglected, compared with others.

When I was a youngster we were taught some BSL in our Sunday school—at least, I think it was BSL; it was certainly sign language of some kind. Alas, not a shred of that has survived into my adult life. As Dennis said, we need to be careful about simple things such as our speaking rate. In the nearly half a million words that I have contributed to parliamentary debates since I came here in 2001, I have averaged 131 words a minute. Do I really need to slow down? Can I speed up? Of course, as Dennis explained to me a minute or two ago in a little aside, there is not an exact mapping of words between the languages. He told me that, for example, BSL does not have a word for “if”. That is actually quite good news because “if” is one of the most destructive words in the English language in certain contexts.

I will close by saying a word or two about the efforts of the proposer of the bill, Mark Griffin, and to congratulate him on his work. We as a Parliament should always be looking at what other Parliaments do. For example, the Australian Parliament has a seven-minute curfew on questions at Prime Minister’s question time. It does not matter whether the Prime Minister is speaking: chop—next question. That is not a bad idea.

We are looking at what Westminster has done in electing committee conveners, but what we can show others is the access that we give for back benchers to legislate. In fact, if every back bencher took the opportunity to do that, there would be 256 bills per parliamentary session. However, there are so many fewer than that because it is a formidably difficult task, engaging a lot of time and effort. I congratulate Mark Griffin on the work that he has put into the bill and I thank him, if only for raising my awareness and giving me a set of questions that I have to go and ask myself and get answers to later.


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