08 September 2015

S4M-14156 Scottish Economy (Progress)

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14156, in the name of John Swinney, on progress in the Scottish economy.


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

Whenever Jackie Baillie lodges an amendment to a Government motion it is interesting to look at what she wants to delete. The first thing that she wants to delete is that we are in the

“longest period of ... economic growth”.

Obviously, the Labour Party does not want to celebrate that. I diverge dramatically from Jackie Baillie’s position in that regard. However, I agree with her that it is important that we look at educational inequality. It is a proper moral and practical thing for us to invest in people who are not performing so well and who have unrealised potential. Educating people who need additional help will create additional jobs—that is good. It will bring those people to the job market and make them more effective contributors to our economy and society. That is good, too. What it will not do in the short term is improve productivity in our economy. However, it is something that we most certainly should do.

We have to think about what kind of jobs there will be in the future and how our economy, and employment in it, will look—not just this year, next year or in five years, but in 20 years.

A range of issues have not yet come up in the debate. There are inhibitors in the way that public policy works that will, if they are allowed to continue unchecked, make things more difficult. For example, many businesses in my part of Scotland find it difficult to get deliveries via parcel services and so on because there is no adequate universal service provision. I heard of someone who could not get something delivered by Amazon to Aberdeen. The material concerned was potentially flammable and Amazon said that it would have to cross water to get to Aberdeen. Delivery services can inhibit receipt of goods and services in many areas of Scotland. It is a significant issue. In the opposite direction, companies’ being unable to have their goods collected from their premises inhibits economic growth and development.

We might think about some good and underexploited issues. I have a Betamax tape. It is only 25 years old and I can no longer watch it, but I have a piece of family paperwork from more than 200 years ago that I can read. The National Library of Scotland is taking a leading role in protecting the records of our country from obsolescence through technological change. It is developing ways in which electronic databases can be migrated over time. Paper has historically looked after itself, but in the modern world, with our storage of information being largely electronic, there is a huge risk that we will lose lots of that information. The Government should be encouraged to support the National Library of Scotland. That work will create a specialist skill in Scotland that will be of great benefit all over the country and all over the world, and will create commercial opportunities.

We have to improve delivery of electronic services to everyone in our country. We have to come up with technological solutions and investment to support the 5 per cent of us, in which I include myself—and I speak with a heartfelt plea—who are on exchange-only lines that cannot be connected to fibre optic cable. I see that Alex Johnstone is in similar difficulty.

Yesterday I had lunch at Hergés on the Loch in Tweedbank, for which I say thank you to Borders rail. I now want to move to our building the case for Buchan rail, because Fraserburgh, with a population of 15,000, is 37 miles from the nearest railway station, and Peterhead, with a population of 19,000, is 32 miles from the nearest railway station. That is the next big rail project: I hope that the Government looks at it in early course.


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