24 November 2015

S4M-14930 Violence Against Women

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14930, in the name of Margaret Burgess, on violence against women: 16 days of activism.

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

I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the Labour amendment, which gives us the opportunity at 5 o’clock to speak from the chamber with a single voice that leaves no ambiguity as to our shared view on the subject. Violence against women does not simply endanger women, although it clearly does so; it demeans men, who are the primary source of that violence.

Laws are one way in which we can tackle the problem, and there are areas where we need to legislate. I welcome the Government’s actions in bringing forward new laws, but the fear of prosecution in those who perpetrate violence against women is likely to have a substantially lesser influence in leading to change than the other kind of measures that we need. Gathering evidence is a difficult task for the justice system to undertake, particularly when a lot of the violence is psychological as much as physical and when much of it takes place out of sight of witnesses. There is nothing much that we can do to address that issue.

The change that will make the greatest difference will not be a legislative change, necessary though that is in certain areas; it will come when we find ways to change men’s minds. Alison McInnes is correct that focusing on female victims feeds a reinforcement, through females seeing themselves as potential victims and, more importantly in relation to men, by showing to men that females are victims, inferior and something to be dominated. There are dangers in a gender-based approach to risk management in relation to that kind of violence. Males’ stereotypes of women can be reinforced if we do not take great care.

There are wider societal benefits from tackling male attitudes and behaviours that lead to the abuse of women and girls. A man who uses what he perceives as his relative power in fact demonstrates his weakness. A strong man or woman is one who is able to share their power—to stand back and let someone else have the space to be themselves. The man who has to enforce his will on women and use his power to abuse them is weak.

Using power to abuse women sets a pattern of behaviour among men that is likely to lead to such men also abusing people of different races, sexual orientation, faith and political views, and it perhaps even means—I have no evidence but I instinctively feel that it is likely to be the case—that they are more likely to be cruel to animals. That is because the disposition—the mental set—of people who perpetrate violence against women is likely to lead them into behaviours that go beyond that. Therefore, there is a much wider benefit if we can change men’s minds.

The question is how we change men because, if we do not do that, we do not deliver much. First, and quite obviously, we must help the next generations of men grow up with different attitudes. I see some progress in that regard.

Recently, my four-year-old goddaughter, following a visit to Our Dynamic Earth, explained to me how the universe started. It was really quite a good scientific explanation from a four-year-old. She asked me, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” and we debated that. Of course, she also asked how the universe came into being when there was nothing there. It was terrific that she was getting engaged in pursuits that, 20 years ago, were thought to be essentially male pursuits. When I saw her again a week ago, we did a little scientific experiment together that involved dissolving crystals of salt in water. We saw them disappear and then we boiled the water off and saw the salt reappear. I gather that she went along to nursery school two days later and explained that to all her fellow pupils.

There is a wider issue about equalising our attitudes to people in society that are quite independent of their gender. However, men are today’s problem.

We want to challenge attitudes and beliefs, which is extremely difficult. The psychological phenomenon that is called confirmation bias—the unconscious filtering out of information that is at odds with our established beliefs and learned behaviours—is a substantial barrier to change. If we are to persuade people to change their attitudes and thinking, we need to engage intensively. Much of that work must be one to one, and we can do that only with the people whose behaviours most severely affect other people in society. That is a limited approach and likely to be costly, so the alternative approach that we must take is to focus on corralling and restricting the unacceptable behaviours. That means shifting wide community attitudes.

I am an optimist by nature. I think that we might reach the tipping point on the matter in the relatively near future, similar to the one that we reached with drink driving. When I first started drinking, drinking and driving was basically just one of the things that happened—nobody bothered about it that much—but now it is viewed very differently in society. We must get to that position on violence against women.

I do not want the equality that could flow from women adopting the male behaviours that we have spent the afternoon criticising. The society that I want and that I hope we all want is based on mutual respect, changing behaviours and safety for all citizens in Scotland and throughout the world.


19 November 2015

S4M-14879 Community Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14879, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on stage 1 of the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill.

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

When I got elected to Parliament in 2001, one of the biggest issues in my in-tray was the plan to close the prison in Peterhead. That prison had been opened in 1888—the only other thing that I know about 1888 is that it was the year that Celtic Football Club started. It was built at a cost of £57,400 and the land on which it was built cost £5,000. I am delighted that, after a long community-based campaign, which I was very happy to support and contribute to, we now have a community-facing prison—at a rather more substantial cost than the £57,400 that the original prison cost. It is already showing signs that it will contribute materially to the way in which things operate in criminal justice in the north-east.

The staff at Peterhead prison are what make or break what goes on there, and the same is true of prisons elsewhere. In the whole community justice space and in dealing with offenders and people who look as if they might end up being offenders, we need good people in place, and I think that, by and large, that is exactly what we have.

However, prisons ain’t the answer. Pure economics tells us that. The cost of keeping someone in prison can be as much as £40,000 a year. We know that, as well as being more successful in achieving its aim, treating people outside prison so that they are less likely to reoffend is likely to cost a quarter of that. Therefore, what people who say, “Bang them up, put them in prison and throw away the key,” are actually saying is that we should take money away from socially useful ways of spending money and waste it on something that will not deliver anything very meaningful at all.

I see that Margaret Mitchell is just coming into the chamber. She and I spoke in the chamber on victims and witnesses in 2005. We have not heard an awful lot about victims in the debate; I hope that we will hear a little bit more because, at the end of the day, the victims are the most important people in any consideration of criminal justice. They are the ones who, frankly, are often marginalised in the process, much as we have tried to do more for them.

Our incarceration rates are far too high, that is for sure. The rates in Scandinavian countries are about a third of what they are here. The good news is that the rate in the United States is four times our rate, so I suppose that we are considerably better than some countries. However, we are not as good as we need to be.

In a consultation in 2004, the then Scottish Executive used the headings “Reduce, Rehabilitate, Reform”, and I think that that is an excellent way of looking at the activities that we must undertake.

Even the Prisons Act 1835 had as a central purpose the intention to reform criminals. Reforming criminals is not a new idea, although it would be fair to say that punishment was probably also pretty central in 1835.

The Justice 1 Committee carried out an inquiry into reoffending in 2004. Aberdeenshire Council, in its submission to that inquiry, said:

“the prison environment cannot of itself … be conducive to achieving the desired outcome of reducing re-offending.”

I do not think that anyone in today’s debate has said otherwise.

Clive Fairweather, the late, lamented HM chief inspector of prisons, was a great supporter of out-of-prison rehabilitation. We miss him and his sage advice. He was not a man with whom I agreed on every political matter, I hasten to add, but on this matter he was very clear.

We have heard a little about the definition of community justice in the bill. I, and the rest of us, should be heartened slightly by the Government’s document “Future Model for Community Justice in Scotland”, which came out in September 2015. The definition of community justice begins thus:

“The collection of agencies and services in Scotland that individually and in partnership work to manage offenders”


“prevent offending”.

That is crucial, and I hope that those words from the Government in a document that it has published will be roughly similar to those that we end up seeing in the bill.

Section 17 of the bill refers to the outcomes improvement plan. First, I am heartened by the use of the word “outcomes”, because it anchors what the plan must be about. We should not be unduly prescriptive about methods—we should focus on outcomes. The structure of the bill provides an opportunity for those plans to address the issue of preventative spend to reduce offending, because that ought above all to be the outcome that we seek.

I am always reluctant to add another layer to any organisation. I have yet to be convinced—I have not engaged on the issue as the bill has gone through committee—that adding another layer will, in and of itself, help very much. It may well help, and it can help, but I instinctively need to be persuaded.

Similarly, on the whole process of planning, it is clear that the plans must come from the community planning partnerships up to national level. However, when a plan is produced by person A but must be implemented by person B, one runs the risk of there not being buy-in. I am hugely enthusiastic about plans where they come from the grass roots and reflect the experience of people at that level, as there is more chance that they will be successful.


17 November 2015

S4M-14820 “Changing Relationships: Parliamentary Scrutiny of Intergovernmental Relations”

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on S4M-14820, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on “Changing Relationships: Parliamentary Scrutiny of Intergovernmental Relations”... ... ...

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

In this week of all weeks, we know that Governments in these islands can and do work together. Tavish Scott talked about the First Minister’s reference to participating in COBRA meetings. I did that when I was a minister—certainly on one occasion and, I think, more than that. I still have the UK transport minister’s mobile number in my mobile telephone from when I was transport minister here. In practice, co-working is perfectly possible and is perhaps a little more common than is sometimes imagined. Sometimes, ministers are happy to bypass the civil servants to make things move that little bit faster than others might want.

Some co-decision making is already embedded in law. The former British Waterways Board was a cross-border authority that required Scottish and UK ministers to sign off decisions that ministers were required to make. Thus, when I was responsible for canals, I found myself signing of a decision that related entirely to a transaction in Birmingham. The deal was that I would do what the UK minister wanted to do in England and he would sign off anything that we wanted in Scotland. Crucially, that co-decision making enabled us to protect canals in the public sector in Scotland when, south of the border, the authorities wanted to travel in a fundamentally different direction. That shows that it can be done.

Similarly, appointments to the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change are jointly made by the Northern Irish, Welsh, Scottish and UK ministers and require unanimity. On one occasion, when there was a serious discussion on the matter, I conducted the interviews with the candidates for a vacancy on the committee and, thereafter, we were able to achieve the unanimity that had not initially existed.

There are already some legislated areas of co-decision making. They are tiny, but the point is that they show that we have already accepted the principle of legislating for co-decision making. Practical experience shows that it can be done.

On finance, it would be particularly dangerous to imagine that there is no scope for legally embedding co-decision making, but equally, as others have said, there needs to be respect between individuals of different political parties, Parliaments and Governments who carry different objectives.

Baroness Goldie is correct in saying that one cannot legislate for everything, but there are some things that we could do differently unilaterally that would deliver shared benefit. There has been reference made to that already. The Government that most promptly publishes details of intergovernmental meetings and the subjects that are discussed will create the opportunity for both Parliaments to engage in their proper process of oversight. The laggard loses: that is a message to the Governments in Edinburgh and London. Neither Government is, perhaps, as rapid as it could be in publishing such information. Indeed, that is a message to those in Belfast and Cardiff as well.

I note from the report that Professor McHarg said that

“parliamentary scrutiny has been one of the areas in which the current system has not worked.”

That must be corrected. A shared acceptance of the need to legislate on intergovernmental relations is vital; we cannot simply leave it to a memorandum of understanding. There are old arguments that flexibility delivers benefit. It does, but I suggest that it provides substantially less flexibility to Governments.

Professor McEwen floats the idea of an additional parliamentary committee on intergovernmental relations. Others have made other suggestions for new parliamentary committees. Also, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s inquiry into our committee structures has almost universally attracted comments to the effect that we have too many committees and that too many members are on too many committees: some are on three committees. Who knows? The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee might suggest that MSPs should be members of only a single permanent committee. Note that there is a little weasel word in there, so there might be a way out.

On negotiations between Governments, the Scotwork process is the standard that is used in most commercial negotiations. It is called LIM-it—like, intend, must. In other words, one goes in with three lists. It is perfectly possible to publish in advance the “must”—in other words, what I need to get for my side when I go into the negotiations. I suspect that it is not possible to publish the “like” and “intend”, which are the dice that are played as negotiations play out, but there is more scope to publish the “must” intentions of various Governments.

I am one of the former ministers. There is nothing more ex than an ex-minister, but I did not realise how much power ministers had until I became one. I suspect that I share that with others.

However, there are opportunities for Parliament to take more interest. In my concluding remarks, I will refer to a couple of things that are coming to us.

Supermajorities are coming, and we will have to look at that. We have the opportunity in the debate and beyond to think about doing things differently. Perhaps ex-ministers, at least among SNP members, untrammelled by the prospect of offending anyone and not being appointed to the House of Lords, can be quite radical, where others might be more cautious.


11 November 2015

S4M-14440 Energy Storage Network

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14440, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on the energy storage network. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch by Scottish Renewables of its new storage network and its publication of a briefing paper, Energy Storage: The Basics; understands that the technologies covered in the paper include hydrogen fuel cells, large-scale heat storage and supercapacitors and that the purpose of the network is to bring together people and organisations with an interest in the energy storage sector, which it believes is growing rapidly; notes reports that it is estimated that the global market for large-scale energy storage will be worth around £20 billion by 2022; understands that Scotland has already taken a lead in the development of technologies such as grid-scale batteries, and notes the view that it is of vital importance to the future of the renewable energy sector in the Highlands and Islands and across the country that Scotland continues to develop a strong energy storage sector.

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

Other members have mentioned Tom Johnston, but one key aspiration that he had has not yet been referred to. He imagined that, with the building of hydroelectric schemes, we would get to a position where no charge was made for the electricity that was supplied, because there was no cost in the energy source from which it came. That sounds like fantasy, except that it is now happening in Texas.

In reading The New York Times on Sunday, I spotted that TXU Energy of Texas, which is the state in the United States with the highest proportion of installed wind energy, is now supplying to its customers at no charge whatsoever all the electricity that they can use between 9 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock in the morning. There is a future out there, if we get the infrastructure in the right place, that will enable us to do things that are both environmentally and practically favourable to energy consumers.

Of course, the electricity is free overnight because that is not when most people want it. That brings us neatly to the whole point of storage. I declare that I am a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. It has a monthly magazine that covers up-to-date projects, and the October edition described what is a very exciting project. It involves a lithium-oxygen battery that uses graphene—that is, single atom level graphite carbon—to protect the electrodes from corrosion in the pure oxygen environment that is required in such batteries. A demonstrator is working in the lab, which means that in 10 years’ time, the technology might be available to us as consumers.

Weight for weight and volume for volume, that battery can store the same amount of energy as a tankful of petrol, and it is theoretically already able—in demonstrator mode—to enable us to travel 650km between Edinburgh and London for one fifth of the cost of present technology and one fifth of the weight. In other words, it is a direct and genuine competitor with the petrol and diesel engines that we have in our cars today. We cannot guarantee that it will come out of the lab and end up as a commercial product, but the portents are really quite encouraging.

We have seen enormous changes taking place in the technology of batteries. The point is that, if someone has local generation—a turbine on their roof—and they can charge their car overnight and get a normal tankful of energy, that is pretty good, because the transmission cost is nil, they are in control of what is going on and there are huge environmental benefits.

I contrast that with what the Financial Times reported on Tuesday last week. It told us that the energy supply in the United Kingdom has been so ill managed that the UK Government is having to contract for diesel power stations. We now like diesel a lot less than we did a few months ago, before Volkswagen revealed to us how polluting it is, but the Government is going to spend £436 million to provide excess diesel capacity at precisely the point at which it is shutting down renewables. That disnae make sense.

This has been an excellent debate and I say well done to Mike MacKenzie. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say.


S4M-14768 Succession (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14768, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on the Succession (Scotland) Bill.

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

This is an interesting bill, which we have been dealing with in the DPLR Committee. I will address my remarks to the rectification provisions in sections 3 and 4.

In particular, I note that the minister said, as reported in paragraph 73 of the committee’s report, that we are looking at the grounds for rectification being only when what the testator has wanted and has clearly expressed as being wanted is not reflected in the will.

The minister also said:

“We will continue to reflect on whether software could be considered as constituting a third party.”—[Official Report, Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, 29 September 2015; c 7.]

That refers to where software contributes to the misrepresentation in a resulting will of the intentions that were clearly stated by the testator. The important point is that we have to consider what is done with software, which is quite different from using electronic means to fill in the blanks in a template with one’s intentions. In that case, the intention of the testator is directly keyed, through the keyboard, into the resulting document without any intermediate computer, computer programmer or computer program operation.

Thinking about the matter further, I note that there is clearly a third party when a computer program is involved, because there is the programmer who produced the program. All computer programs are similar in that it is impossible to guarantee a computer program, however simple it may be, to be free from potential error under some circumstances. Even though the testator might have keyed only, “I wish to leave all my assets to my spouse”, for example, it is still perfectly possible for a computer program to scramble that and misspell “spouse”, for the sake of argument. The resulting document would therefore require rectification in order to give effect to the testator’s intention. I think that we have to take account of that.

The difficulty that a court is likely to have to wrestle with is whether there is something that would give clear insight into what the testator’s intentions were. If the testator just keys some data into a computer program, there will be no clear record of the testator’s intentions unless what is keyed in is preserved for examination at a later date.

One of the aspects that we might address that is outwith the legislation but related to it is seeking to provide advice to those who produce automated systems for producing wills that are drawn up by computer programs about the need to preserve directly the testator’s input so that it is possible to examine whether the operation of the computer program has taken the testator’s stated intentions as expressed through the keyboard and produced a will that is different from those intentions.

I think that that lies at the heart of what we would almost certainly need to do. The Government could help those who draw up such programs by making that point and perhaps setting it down as the test that the courts might apply.

It has been an interesting bill to scrutinise. In particular, there is the fiction in section 12—on forfeiture—that means that, if someone murders the person from whom they are due to inherit, that “offender”, although physically still living, is legally dead. That is an exciting and engaging prospect. I look forward to the subsequent stages of the bill.


03 November 2015

S4M-14681 Trident

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-14681, in the name of Keith Brown, on Trident, welfare or warfare.

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

On the side of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, the founder of the US social security system is quoted as saying:

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

We simply cannot discount the fact that, when we choose to spend vast amounts of money on a particular item of defence, we choose to take money away from those in our society with the greatest need. I am not simply talking about radical social reformers such as FDR. Winston Churchill spoke of the tragedy of poverty and the tyranny of war. In Liverpool in 1951, he said:

“Evils can be created much quicker than they can be cured.”

That absolutely touches on today’s issue.

Like others, I very much welcome Labour members supporting an anti-Trident motion 48 hours ago. That was not the first time that Scottish members have done so, of course. I wish them well and give them every encouragement in capturing their whole party for their position, although the portents are not particularly encouraging. Perhaps too many parliamentarians south of the border are taking up entrenched positions before they have heard the arguments from the Labour Party’s Scottish conference. However, I wish those Labour members well.

Neil Findlay perhaps overegged the pudding a little when he talked about members’ freedom to choose the debate at the Labour conference. In something that I read today, he is quoted as saying that there is no debate in the SNP. I can tell him that SNP members choose the subject of our debates and have debated weapons of mass destruction on nine occasions since 2000, condemning WMD every time. However, it is not a competition. Every debate that takes the argument forward is worth having, wherever it takes place.

As we heard from the minister, Scotland’s share of the expenditure on Trident is £13.8 billion, and we hear that the overall cost will be £167 billion over the life of the system. In her speech on Sunday, Jackie Baillie suggested that 13,000 jobs depend on Trident. The MOD disagrees and says that the number is 520, but for the purposes of the argument—and solely for those purposes—I am prepared to accept Jackie Baillie’s numbers. I dispute Jackie Baillie’s numbers, but if we accept them, we must accept that the cost of providing a job in the Trident industry is more than 10 times the cost of providing a similarly high-skilled job in another area of the economy.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Stewart Stevenson keeps referring to “Jackie Baillie’s numbers”. They are the MOD’s numbers, obtained through a freedom of information request. They are numbers that established economists came up with in relation to the local supply chain and the local economic multiplier effect. They are not my numbers; they are the numbers of credible organisations, as, I am sure, he agrees.

Stewart Stevenson: On the same generous basis, I hope that the member agrees that when we divide one number by the other, we end up with jobs that are 10 times as expensive to provide as the jobs that the highly qualified and gifted engineers who work in the nuclear industry could do in other areas.

The Conservative motion says:

“in an increasingly dangerous world, having a nuclear deterrent protects against both foreseen and unforeseen threats”.

A series of questions arise from that. Have our missiles—or, more properly, the United States’ missiles, which are carried on our submarines—been directed away from the former Soviet Union and towards new targets? Have the missiles deterred the Taliban, in their Afghan mountain fastnesses, from taking action? Were they a deterrent to Saddam Hussein, in his bunker in Iraq? Are they a deterrent to Daesh in Syria and Iraq?

Of course, the questions answer themselves. The missiles are no deterrent of any kind to the threats that exist in today’s world. They are merely a Potemkin village of a defence provision, which has nothing behind it that contributes to defence.

The difference between the Conservatives and the SNP is that the Conservatives would spend any sum of money, or so John Lamont tells us. I would not spend my last penny on something that delivers nothing and in any event is immoral, as other members argued.

Our nuclear weapons are not targeted at our enemies and never will be. They do not attack the military capabilities of those who would attack us. They are by design focused on civilian populations over the horizon—beyond our view, beyond our ken and beyond our care. They are focused, often, on people in totalitarian regimes, who have made no contribution whatever to decisions about peace or war.

I return to Churchill’s dichotomy. When we choose to spend our money on weapons of mass destruction we address neither the tyranny of war nor the tragedy of poverty.


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