14 December 2016

S5M-02049 Climate Targets

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02049, in the name of Maree Todd, on Scotland’s climate targets. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the contribution made by the recently-published report, The Energy of Scotland: Heating, moving and powering our lives from now to 2030, to the debate about the future of Scotland’s energy; understands that the report, which was prepared by WWF Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland, is based on technical analysis by the leading global technical consultancy, Ricardo Energy and Environment; notes its findings suggesting that producing 50% of all of Scotland’s energy across heat, transport and electricity from renewables by 2030 is achievable and necessary; recognises what it sees as the progress to date in deploying renewables across the electricity sector; understands that these generate the equivalent of more than half of the country’s demand and have brought economic benefits, especially in the Highlands and Islands, and notes the views regarding the work that now needs to be done to support renewables in the heat and transport sectors, which, it understands, together account for more than three-quarters of Scotland’s total energy consumption.

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

Presiding Officer, I wish you a happy birthday—it is always as well to get credit with the Presiding Officers; it is one of the rules in this place—and I thank Maree Todd for securing the debate.

I found myself agreeing with every word that Maurice Golden said in what was a very worthwhile contribution. In the light of that agreement, I gently encourage him and his Conservative colleagues to consider signing a motion from time to time, even if there is an SNP name on it. However, that is a political point that I do not want to stress.

The key point to make is that the report that is the subject of this evening’s debate makes many points that are critical to our economy, to renewable energy and—fundamentally—to climate change. Members will know of my personal engagement as the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through in 2009, which was a very challenging bill.

It is fair to acknowledge that an area that has already been the subject of debate—renewable heat—is one of the areas in which the challenge is greatest. Renewable heat is proving to be fundamentally more difficult to develop than we imagined in 2009 it would be. That does not mean that we should ignore it: on the contrary, it is the difficult things to which we must now turn our attention, but we will do so having had successes in other areas.

I accept that transport emissions remain a difficult area. I will tell members a little story about that. When I was minister, I went to a meeting of eco-congregations, which took place in a rural area and was attended by people from all over Scotland who were enthusiastic about making faith groups more ecologically friendly. I found ready ears for what I had to say, until I made the mistake of saying that, in transport, one of the things that people like me who live in rural areas might think about is co-ordinating with neighbours our visits to local towns to do our shopping. I can describe what happened only by saying that all Hades—I use the word carefully—broke loose, because it turned out that even among the most enthusiastic climate change adopters, that was for everyone else to do—not them. The big challenge lies with the people and in our persuading them to adopt new ways of working.

The UK has been doing reasonably well in the rankings, although it is going a bit backwards at the moment. Scotland accounts for one seven-hundredth of the world’s emissions and is widely recognised as being one of the leaders in tackling climate change—albeit that there are other areas of the world that are in certain respects doing better than we are. The leadership that we have displayed is being challenged by some of the UK Government’s policies on renewable energy.

However, I am hopeful, because there is economic benefit to be gained from addressing climate change. We create new jobs and reduce our long-term costs, because the raw material for renewable energy is, after all, all but free once we have made the capital investment. Those are areas that we can consider and in which we can, I hope, make progress. Scotland has engineering skills that we can leverage across from our oil and gas industry, in particular into new offshore renewable energy installations. First-mover advantage is still there for us to grasp.

I hope that the debate makes a useful contribution, just as the report that we are discussing and the work of WWF, Friends of the Earth Scotland and RSPB Scotland have made excellent contributions on climate change. I look forward to listening to my colleagues’ speeches.

I wish you a happy birthday, once again, Presiding Officer.


07 December 2016

S5M-02922 Sea Fisheries and End-year Negotiations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02922, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

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

I have great hopes for today’s debate, and in that spirit I start by congratulating colleagues on the Conservative benches on their candour in their amendment. Not everyone is prepared to acknowledge failures in negotiation. They are shared between the UK Government and perhaps the Scottish Government, but if we acknowledge where we are not succeeding, we have hope of going forward.

Fishermen in Scotland have indeed expressed their disappointment about the blue whiting catch allocation. Seven percentage points have been given away today, just as control over our waters was in 1983, at the end of the 10-year derogation. That leads me to say that we might usefully look at a little of the history that got us to where we are today, so that we do not repeat some of that history.

The original commitment to surrender our fishing rights out to 200 miles came in 1971. In effect, it was entrenched into law when Ted Heath signed the treaty of accession on 22 January 1972. This is the important point: only after that was the treaty published and subject to democratic scrutiny. The most objectionable part of the treaty was that fishing decisions could be made by majority, and sometimes by qualified majority. The issue of opening up the result of negotiations before we get committed to it, so that parliamentarians can look at it, is perhaps one that we will return to in another context at a later point.

The fisheries negotiations that we are talking about today are so unsatisfactory that even landlocked countries in the EU can essentially block our interests. The SNP has recognised all that from the very outset, and that is why we have opposed the common fisheries policy in all its forms from the beginning.

Hopefully, we are going to get to a position of a reasonable consensus in the chamber. In my very first speech here, in June 2001—strictly speaking, it was up the road from here—I quoted words from this Parliament’s European Committee, and they are equally relevant today. I said that we should try to get everyone

“to speak with one voice ... There are tensions that should be buried for the common good.”—[Official Report, European Committee, 30 January 2001; c 946.]

That was the advice from the Parliament’s European Committee in 2001. It is still good advice today and I hope that we are able to do that.

It is worth saying that my colleague Donald Stewart, who was the leader of the SNP in 1982, said of fisherman, on the record, in the Westminster debate that preceded the formation of the common fisheries policy in the current form:

“They have been betrayed. The result will be catastrophe.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 15 July 1982; Vol 27, c 1195.]

We see that that view was shared. Austin Mitchell, another great champion of fishing communities—I should perhaps have said that it was a Labour motion that was being debated—also spoke up in similar terms, as indeed did some but not a majority of Conservatives. Certainly, when the vote came at 7 o’clock at night, the Conservatives voted down a motion that would have given a proper sense of where we were at that point.

We have to grab hold of the fact that fisheries negotiations are not just a matter for those who catch fish. They are also a matter for our processors. In my constituency, processing is a major source of employment for many thousands of people, and people in that industry wait equally anxiously for the outcome of each year’s negotiation. It is no small matter for Peterhead and Fraserburgh, where the contribution from landings was more than £150 million last year. That is nearly £4,000 per head of population—a very substantial sum. However, it equally matters to constituents in the south of Scotland in Eyemouth, and of course to Tavish Scott’s constituents in the furthest north.

In 1997, my political colleague Dr Allan Macartney MEP published a considered proposal for reform of the CFP. We might take notice of a couple of things in it that throw some light on how we got to where we are. One thing that Allan Macartney, who was a linguist, highlighted was that the Spanish act of secession of 1985, which in essence eliminated the UK’s ability to veto results, arose in part because of a difference between the Spanish language and English language versions of the treaty. The Spanish language version missed out the word “solely”, and it was the one that was used when the decisions were made. Tavish Scott is nodding, so I see that he is familiar with that. Sometimes very simple little things can get us into difficulties.

The 1997 paper that Allan Macartney produced could form a useful basis for policy that we might adopt now, although others might take a different view. He said that we needed

“a new framework whereby coastal states with the greatest historical interests in specific fisheries would be able to take the key control and management decisions relating to the fisheries in the waters off their coasts”.

Of course, he was writing to get change in the CFP. It is quite clear that the dynamic in politics and practical affairs is somewhat different today, and therefore a particular opportunity may arise.

I know that other members will talk about choke species, which will continue to be a matter of importance to our communities. Another issue in the current arrangements is that not enough of the fish that are caught in our sector are landed for the benefit of our communities and the processors in our communities. It is not irrational for fishermen to get the highest price that they can—be that in Norway or elsewhere—but we must bear in mind that our quotas were given out at no cost, and if we get new quotas because of new opportunities, we must look at a new way of doing things.

Ultimately, fish is a delicious, healthy thing to eat. Across these islands there is a vast network of fish and chip shops that give us all access to fish. That is what I most enjoy about fishing. This debate is a key opportunity for us to join together and I hope that at 5 o’clock we can agree a common position to the benefit of fishing communities, fishermen, Scotland and the UK as a whole.

06 December 2016

S5M-02919 Renewables

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02919, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on support for Scotland’s renewables.

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

Jackie Baillie referred to the fact that David Cameron has not been very supportive of offshore wind. He is 100 per cent supportive of it—mind you, he is an SNP councillor in Aberdeen. That is perhaps not the David Cameron that Jackie Baillie had in mind.

Liam Kerr’s memory seems to be slightly shorter than mine. It was remembrance day when he and I were sitting round the table listening to Shell UK; I think that Lewis Macdonald was also there, and he might nod when I say that Shell indicated that it was considerably disappointed by the inadequate support that it was getting from the UK Government for many of the initiatives that it wished to pursue.

Another point that I would like to make to Liam Kerr is that Aberdeenshire has a higher concentration of onshore wind farms primarily because for many years the Conservative-led council there had a looser planning authority, which did not impose the same restrictions as the rest of Scotland on distance between wind turbines and communities, and I urged it to harmonise with others. Liam Kerr, who is new to us, is perhaps not as familiar with some of the history as others might be.

Some interesting things are said on the subject of renewable energy from time to time. Victoria Ayling was a Conservative Party candidate in the 2010 general election, when she nearly beat Austin Mitchell; she got within 714 votes of him. In 2015, when she was standing in the same constituency—Great Grimsby—for the UK Independence Party, she showed that startling insight that those on the right of politics sometimes do when she posed the question, “What happens when renewable energy runs out?” When it was drawn to her attention that that was perhaps not the most sensible thing to have said, there was a good deal of desperate back pedalling. On Thursday, she will make her third attempt to get to the UK Parliament when she stands in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, once again for UKIP. Appropriately enough, her name will appear on the ballot paper immediately following the Monster Raving Loony Party and immediately before Bus Pass Elvis, whose candidate appears to be a gentleman called David Bishop.

A lot of nonsense is talked on this general subject. Some of it is merely amusing, but some of it is really serious indeed. Some unexpected sources point us to the seriousness of climate change and why renewable energy has such an important part to play. I will quote no less a person than John Brennan, who is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. On 16 November 2015, he said that climate change was one of the “deeper causes” of instability. He identified it as one of a handful of key challenges that were creating the unstable world that his agency would have to engage with. That is why we should take this debate on renewables and the debate on the broader subject of climate change extremely seriously.

We have made progress in Scotland—that is for sure. Beating our climate change targets six years ahead of the date that we set in 2009 is absolutely terrific, but our emissions are but one seven-hundredth of the world’s emissions. We can set an example, but we are not the source of the entire problem.

The UK Government’s contribution to climate problems is much bigger, so it is bitterly disappointing to see that it fails to understand the best economic way of tackling the issues that are before us. Contracting a price that is twice the market rate for nuclear power from Hinkley Point is not only foolish in relying on a technology that is unproven—and from the early attempts to implement the technology that Hinkley Point C would depend on, looking to be unsuccessful—it is economically benighted and unhelpful. The money could much more usefully be installed in proven technologies for renewable energy. The low-carbon contracts company that I referred to in my earlier intervention is part of the quite complex infrastructure that surrounds contracts for difference—there are six significant parties to those contracts, which makes things far from easy. That company certainly did not give us in its contracts for difference booklet for 2016-17 any prior insight into the UK Government’s volte-face.

I hope that the UK Government will listen to this debate and, more to the point, that it will think of not just the investments that are being made in renewable energy and the value that is derived from those, but the key opportunity to re-exploit the huge skills that have been built up in Scotland, the north of England, East Anglia and throughout the UK in offshore gas and offshore oil, which Lewis Macdonald and other members referred to. Both industries have been around for decades, and we can make much of them in the future.


24 November 2016

S5M-02686 Island Communities (Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business this afternoon is a debate on motion S5M-02686, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on supporting and strengthening Scotland’s island communities.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I rise as a member of the only political party to be represented in the Parliament that owns its own island. That island is Eilean Mòr MhicCharmaig, which is off the coast of Argyll. We were gifted it 30 or 40 years ago, I think. Over many years, members of the party have gone there and started to rebuild the one building that is on it. The island does not count for very much—it is not populated or economically valuable.

I propose that, economically, our islands are the most valuable part of Scotland. I know that that might seem a slightly challenging and interesting thing to say. We think of the islands as soaking up our resources and being subsidised by us but, if we think about them in a different way, the contrary view is true, and the most valuable island of all—uninhabited as it is—is Rockall. Rockall is so valuable because its existence as part of our territory is responsible for our having about a quarter of our offshore economic area. With other islands, it gives us the opportunity to harvest the seas, including the fish, and to access oil.

Andy Wightman: Does Mr Stevenson claim that Scotland should have sovereignty over Rockall? It is a disputed territory, and it was the subject of the last and most recent act of colonialism by the British Government.

Stewart Stevenson: If I recall correctly, Rockall came into the UK in 1955—I will be corrected if necessary. I think that, de facto, it is accepted that it creates that position.

I make the general point that every part of Scotland makes a unique contribution, and we should not forget that the islands make their own unique contributions.

The minister referred to a visit to the sun-kissed island of Raasay. I must say that my greatest memory from my visit there, which was thoroughly enjoyable, is of the midges. The population of Raasay remember with some horror Dr Green, who owned the island and kept it and the economy in thrall. That situation was repeated elsewhere—for example, when Malcolm Potier owned Gigha, the island could not make progress.

Islands have been one of the areas where community buyouts have transformed prospects. South Uist is an example; the island of Gigha is another.

For my part—I have just done some quick arithmetic—I appear to have been to 20 populated islands, which is far from the whole panoply of our islands. My father was born and brought up on Eilean na Muc, which is of course not really an island—in English, we know it as the Black Isle. Indeed, not all things that are called islands are islands; Harris and Lewis are examples of that. Many characteristics of bits of the mainland are also characteristics of islands.

I want to talk a wee bit about transport, because I have hobby-horses that I want to get off my chest, particularly on aviation. Many of our islands are served by small aircraft that use aviation gas, or avgas as it is called in the trade. Avgas is VAT-able, so the island services in the Orkneys and the Shetlands, and those out of Oban to the islands, have to pay VAT on their fuel. That is inherently unfair, because the big aircraft do not pay VAT on aircraft fuel. We should look at that issue.

Similarly, we have restrictions on the aircraft that can serve our islands, which makes it more difficult to expand air services. In Norway, single-engine aircraft can operate full services in instrument conditions and service very small communities, but that is not permitted in the UK, even though the American aviation authority shows that the safety records of single-engine aircraft under a maximum take-off weight of 4,700kg are better than the safety records of multi-engine aircraft in that category.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): I understood that the Civil Aviation Authority was changing the regulations for single-piloted planes, which would benefit the Highlands and Islands.

Stewart Stevenson: The CAA already applies an exemption for single-piloted planes in Orkney and Shetland. That is helpful, but single-engine planes would transform the prospects of some places that are not on the network.

I am conscious of your strictures, Presiding Officer, but let me take a wee bit of an issue with Donald Cameron. On the issue of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise, he sees gloom, but I see opportunity. I am the only constituency member to have both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise operating in my constituency. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon; I have been corrected—they both serve Mr Gibson’s constituency, too.

The people who are in the Scottish Enterprise bit want to be in the HIE bit. If we can transfer some of HIE’s culture and practice to Scottish Enterprise, we will end up in a much better place than we have been in. I do not think that it is gloom and doom. I will campaign for the board meetings and the headquarters to be in Inverness and not Glasgow or Edinburgh.


17 November 2016

S5M-02511 Innovation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02511, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on how Scotland’s innovation centre programme is driving innovation in Scotland.

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The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Stewart Stevenson. We still have a little time in hand.


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

I will try to squeeze it in under half an hour, Presiding Officer.

I am doing the usual innovative thing in relation to my speech. I have random things written on bits of paper here. It is quite illustrative to think of how public key cryptography, which I referred to last week in debate, came into being.

One of the original authors of public key cryptography was a guy called Ron Rivest. He was the mathematician on the team. He had a very restless night when he did not really sleep very much, turning over in his bed, because they were trying to find a one-way mathematical algorithm that worked forwards but not backwards. Do not bother to understand: just take it from me.

He was walking downstairs to make his breakfast in the morning. He got down to the bottom and thought, “I had the answer.” So he had to go back upstairs and walk back down again. Then he remembered what the idea was, which was a matrix transformation, if you really want to know.

He sat down at the breakfast table and he wrote the answer down. He wrote the paper, and it took him 30 minutes to come up with the answer to the problem that he had been wrestling with for a year.

It is illustrative of the innovation process because, although it took 30 minutes to write the answer down from it springing into his mind to his completing the paper, it took a lifetime of preparation for all the intellectual detritus that was floating around in his brain to coalesce in a way that actually produced something new, innovative and required.

We probably all have favourite books. Edward Mountain’s would probably be Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, in which Sun Tzu postulates nine territories for military engagement; number 3 is contentious ground, and the first of the battalions to occupy it is the one that will command the outcome. In innovation, that is exactly the ground that we are debating. Sun Tzu dates a very long way back. My favourite inspirational book, Fred P Brooks’s “The Mythical Man-month”, is much more modern, as it was published in 1974.

It is worth thinking about the character of innovators. The best innovation is disruptive and very often unwelcome because it challenges and changes the status quo. Innovators are, by nature, anarchists. Of course, innovation does not always go the way that the innovator thought it would. When Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone in 1876, politicians got involved, because communication was the purview of the Royal Mail. The postmaster general of the time, in reaction to the invention of the telephone, said that there was no need for it because of a superfluity of telegram boys. It was considered that communication worked well enough.

The other side of it was that Alexander Graham Bell did not think that he had invented the telephone. He thought that he was inventing a broadcast device. That is often the way with innovation. In modern times, we all have mobile phones with facilities for texting. It is worth remembering that the text facility that is part of the Groupe Spécial Mobile system that underpinned the first digital telephones was put in there to allow the communications company to send messages to telephone users about conditions in the network.

Jamie Greene: Would Mr Stevenson agree that much of the innovation and changes in technology that we see today has been driven by military research? A lot of what we use in our daily lives originated in military use but was converted into everyday use. What are his views on that?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is almost certainly right. For example, when, in 1963, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration put out a contract for various bits of what would become the moon lander programme, NASA could provide only 1.4 W of electricity for the computer for navigating the moon lander. That was a quasi-military requirement that could be met only by Rockwell—the successful bidder—producing the first integrated chip, although there had been integrated circuits in the 1940s. That is why we have computers in the sense that we have them today. The member is absolutely correct, but I do not think we should discount the fact that civilians can come up with some pretty good ideas.

Ivan McKee: Would the member agree that military spending is an extremely expensive way of publicly funding innovation programmes?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is absolutely correct. However, I refer to my previous response. We have to acknowledge that innovation in war is very important.

I want to talk about another innovation that came from war. A gentleman called Tommy Flowers, who was a General Post Office engineer at the Dollis Hill research laboratory in northern London, got posted to what is now the Government Communications Headquarters, which was then the base that was trying to break the Enigma codes that the Germans used for their military communications.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will develop it a wee bit, if I may, Presiding Officer, depending on how much time you choose to give me.

An even more horrendously difficult machine was the Lorenz machine, which was used only by Adolf Hitler and the navy and was far more difficult than the Enigma machine. Alan Turing came up with thoughts of how that could be dealt with but Tommy Flowers, who was a relatively small cog in the big machine, said that he had used thermionic valves to build circuits that would do switching and that he could build a computer.

Up to that point, they had been using things called bombes, which were mechanical devices for breaking Enigma that the Poles had developed in the run up to the war. Tommy Flowers said that he could do it but he was forbidden. However, he was a natural anarchist and he went away and, at his own expense, got 1,500 electronic valves—finding them was a terrific thing to do during wartime—and built Colossus Mark 1, which was the first real electronic computer. It was quite good, but he built another one—Colossus Mark 2—and he delivered it on 1 June 1944. They broke the first Lorenz messages in the 24 hours after getting that first machine made by an anarchist innovator. The message that was given to Eisenhower on 4 June said that the Germans were not moving troops into Normandy so it was safe to land there, but there was a concentration of troops in one place, so the Allies moved one of the landing points. If Tommy Flowers had not done that, it is thought that the Normandy landings would not have been successful because they would have encountered severe resistance.

We knew nothing about Tommy Flowers until many decades later, because he was covered by the Official Secrets Act. The story goes on, however. Although he had paid for the development of the computer himself, the Government refused to refund him. Eventually, it gave him £1,000, by which time it no longer mattered and he shared it with the rest of the team.

I will say 10 words. The important thing about innovation is that innovators have time to think, space to think and, more importantly, people of different minds, not the same mind, with whom they can think collaboratively. If innovation centres do anything, they must do all those things.


15 November 2016

S5M-02488 Single Market and Trade (European Union Referendum)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02488, in the name of Keith Brown, on the single market and trade and the European Union referendum.

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

I start by saying gently to the absent Neil Findlay that it is not helpful to suggest that anyone here would describe our friends and neighbours south of the border as “nasty people”. My English relatives and my friends in England remain my friends however they may have voted on whatever subject. Indeed, my American relatives and friends also remain friends. Such intemperate language devalues and contaminates his broader arguments.

We have heard from almost everybody on the Conservative benches, and from Jackie Baillie, numbers about Scotland’s exports to England. Let us examine where those numbers come from and what credibility we should place on them.

I start with a paper that was produced by the previous Labour-Liberal Executive in 2005. Regarding those numbers, it says:

“The main difficulty arises because taxes are collected at the UK level, and also since Scotland is a region of the UK ... there is no legal requirement for companies to report financial information at sub-UK level”.

It goes on to say that the global connections survey is difficult

“for both practical and conceptual reasons”.

It is difficult to say where things are exported.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Let me continue—I may give way if time permits.

I turn to 2013, and a paper that the UK Government produced in the run-up to the referendum in 2014—“Scotland analysis: Business and microeconomic framework.” Indeed, that paper quotes the £45.5 billion. I am prepared to agree, by the way, that the figure probably has 11 digits in it; that is probably correct. If we look one paragraph below, there is a neat little footnote that says that it may be

“£35.651 million lower than the estimate ... in Scotland’s Global Connections Survey”.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: I have another four to do before I get there.

Jackie Baillie: I am patient.

Stewart Stevenson: That footnote illustrates precisely the imprecision about the way in which we produce the figures.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Stewart Stevenson: If time permits.

The “Export Statistics Scotland” 2014 report, produced by statisticians in Scotland, interestingly provides information that perhaps illustrates where some of the difficulties may arise. The report points out that the Netherlands is Scotland’s second biggest export market, and the biggest in the EU. That seems rather surprising, because the footnote says that the Netherlands and Belgium are consistently reported as our “top trading partners”; however, those countries contain “key ports” where many of our exports are exported.

The report goes on to deal with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs figures for regional exports of goods. Here, it gets really interesting. In the figures for the various countries of the UK, there is—and I quote—an “unknown region” that exported £37.3 billion. That is quite interesting; if that were to be attributed to Scotland, our exports beyond the UK exceed the £45 billion-plus that are represented. Could that be the case? Actually, it is quite likely, because that is the oil region, and it is only by omitting oil that one can get the result that one does.

Let us turn to the business of ports—I say to Jackie Baillie that I am now out of time. The Rotterdam effect is an idea that is so pervasive that it is part of the A-level syllabus in England and Wales, and I have before me a study note about it. The issue concerns the fact that an export is booked at the last point at which it touches the ground. Given that Scotland does not have many ports that are equivalent to Felixstowe, Zeebrugge or Rotterdam, most of our exports touch the ground and are counted somewhere else.

We need to be conscious about the numbers that have been presented. I do not say that they are wrong; it is just that, on the basis of the evidence that is before us, I cannot possibly say that they are right, and there is evidence that suggests that they might actually be the other way up from what we are seeing.

Presiding Officer, it has been an absolute delight to have the audience listen to me here today. I hope that we will talk about more numbers as the debate progresses.


10 November 2016

S5M-02418 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education and Training Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02418, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on the Scottish Government’s consultation on a strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and training.

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

You asked about block-chain, Presiding Officer. It would take rather longer than five minutes to explain, but I will say that one commercial product that you may be familiar with that depends on block-chain technology is the electronic currency called bitcoin. I will leave that with you, Presiding Officer.

Ross Thomson—unfortunately he has left, but he can read this speech later—said that the Scots invented the steam engine. They did not—a guy called Hero, who was a Greek philosopher and thinker, invented the steam turbine in 100 AD. It is thought that he was building on ideas from 200 years before that. We Scots invented most things, but we can concede on one or two.

Richard Feynman has been mentioned: he was a terrific communicator and teacher. As a member of the commission that investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster, he was gagged and not allowed to speak, but at the press conference, he was able to show what had happened without saying a single word. I have talked about that before—members can read about it in some of my old speeches.

I want briefly to pick up on the role of gender. When I started in computers in the 1960s, about 50 per cent of people who were working in programming were female. The reason was that working in computers was an unknown profession that was not sexy and did not draw people. Furthermore, the great heroes of computing are mostly female. Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, was Charles Babbage’s computer programmer for his analytical engine, which was a mechanical computer. She developed the first algorithm for computer programming, and algorithms are how we develop computer programmes today. Rear Admiral Grace Hopper was the person who created the way in which we now develop computer programmes, in particular using COBOL—common business-oriented language. She is also responsible for the term “computer bug”, which she used when a bug—an American word for moth—got trapped in the electromechanical contacts of a computer. Anyone who goes to the Smithsonian Institution can see the bug that Grace Hopper sellotaped into a laboratory notebook in 1944. The differentiation between male and female engagement in computing is a comparatively modern thing and I have no explanation for why it has happened.

I want to talk about education, but not in the way that it is being talked about now. I am an autodidact, which means that the gaps in my knowledge are entirely my fault and nobody else’s. I did have inspirational teachers, including Doc Inglis—a bluff Lancastrian who took my first-year class around the school searching for infinity. We looked in the dustbins and behind the blackboard. The point is that I remember that to this day—that is what inspiring teachers do. When I was in sixth year, he came and did his tax return with us, either to show us how little money he got paid for putting up with us or to show us that there is a practical application for being numerate.

People say that they are uncomfortable with numbers. Whenever people say that to me, I ask, “Do you think you could give me an 11-digit number?”, and they say, “Oh, no! Certainly not.” Then I ask, “Well—does this number mean anything to you? It’s zero, one, three, one, three, four, eight, five thousand.” People in the Scottish Parliament will, I hope, say “Oh, yes. I know that number. It’s the number for the Parliament switchboard.” Everybody has a basic ability to engage with numbers, but it is subconscious and we do not realise that we have it.

The key thing that is perhaps omitted from any numeracy strategy is ensuring that parents and families can create a number-friendly environment at the outset of children’s lives, which can make a difference to their attitudes to numbers at a later stage in their lives. There are science games that we can play, for example. My four-year-old goddaughter and I dissolved salt crystals because she had seen a rock crystal and asked what a crystal was, and I said “Here’s a crystal.” We dissolved it in water, then we put that in a pan, boiled it off and got the salt back. She went away and briefed her nursery class on that piece of science.

When she next comes to see me, we are going to do a couple of things. We will use a mixture of alum and vinegar to write a message on the white of a hard-boiled egg through the shell. The message can be read only when the shell is peeled off, and we will discuss why that matters. Next, because young children are always somewhat scatological, we will use human urine to write a message on a piece of paper; it will disappear but then reappear when we heat the bit of paper.

There are lots of things that we can engage kids with that will make a real difference to their attitude to numbers and to science, and equip them with a questioning mind. At the end of the day, I am not bothered about what knowledge anybody has; if they have a questioning mind, they are going to get knowledge themselves about what matters to them. That is what will ultimately make them successful in life. All the business about teaching STEM subjects to support the economy and so on is entirely secondary. I want to see successful, happy and engaged people in STEM subjects. If we, individually and as parents and families, help with that, we will make substantial progress. I hope that that is ultimately reflected in the strategy that we end up with.


03 November 2016

S5M-02281 Digital Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02281, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on realising Scotland’s full potential in a digital world.

... ... ...

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

I suspect that, by the end of my contribution, I may be judged either an iconoclast or a heretic. I am reminded that, on 23 July 1633, Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the minister in St Giles cathedral because of the first use of the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer”. She sought to overturn the prevailing norms and I will do something similar.

None of this digital stuff matters at all. We really should be debating communication and services because those are what we are trying to get to. Digital infrastructure is merely one of a range of ways in which we might support those broader aims.

Let us talk about communication. The Roman empire had a series of hilltop signalling posts that enabled a message to get from Londinium to Roma in a mere six hours. It did not work at night or if there was fog or low cloud, but a lot of the time it meant pretty good—for 2,000 or so years ago—communication from the outposts of the empire to the centre. That was one of the reasons why the Roman empire was so much more successful than the Greek empire, which was still sending messengers around with messages in cleft sticks or, alternatively, sending secret messages by shaving the head of a slave, writing the message on the slave’s head, waiting till their hair grew and then sending them off—it took months.

What we are actually talking about and interested in is communication. Digital communication has been around for a lot longer than we would think. The Scots invented the first fax machine in the 1840s—of course, it was probably analogue, rather than digital, and the technology that we use today is very different. The telegraph, which was the first real digital communication medium, was the key thing that opened up America by enabling communications to be taken to the west coast, which was the making of that big country whose future we will all be watching with interest next week. The first private telegraph line between Edinburgh and London was opened in 1868, when the Bank of Scotland—for which I worked for 30 years—installed a telegraph line between its head office on the Mound and its office in Broad Street in London. The telephone came to the bank a wee bit later, in 1882. Like banks everywhere, the Bank of Scotland was cautious about technology and the board approved the telephone only on the strict understanding that it not be used to conduct business.

Computers, too, have been around for quite a long time. Astrological computers were used in Arabia more than 1,000 years ago.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con): I am always amazed at how much knowledge the member has, but I hope that we will move beyond faxes at some point and get to broadband. I encourage the member to address the question of how we will get broadband in the remote parts of the Highlands. Could that be weaved into his history?

Stewart Stevenson: We can certainly do that, of course. However, I will say, in part, that broadband is not necessarily digital. It is actually digital data that is carried on analogue signals. That is neither here nor there, but it illustrates why, when we talk about digital, we shouldnae get bogged down in all this techy stuff. What we actually want is for people to get access to services and good communications.

I am disappointed that Mike Rumbles is not here to hear me mildly correct one or two things that he said. I will start by addressing his statement that he lives next to a trunk road called the A97. That will be news to people, because there is no trunk road with that name. The A97 is a local road that is the responsibility of the local council. I will correct him on another point. He has been told on umpteen occasions that he is on an exchange-only line. So am I. My exchange is on fibre; I am not. I am counted in the 5 per cent that was mentioned, and so is Mr Rumbles. My brother lives in the centre of Edinburgh. He is on an exchange-only line, so he is in that 5 per cent, too. Different technology will be needed to connect people who are connected differently for reasons of history that go back more than 100 years to when the first telephones were installed in Scotland in the late 1870s—some of that wire is still around.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab): I take the member’s point that, in essence, we are not dealing with something new and that we are essentially talking about communication. However, the key difference is that we are facing a change in technology that is not just about communication but involves replacing every step that humans currently take as part of the supply chain across a broad range of things. That is new and it is something that we have never faced before and it must be addressed.

Stewart Stevenson: I agree with the member. He is absolutely correct. Of course, we have been through a similar change in the mechanical era, when we automated the looms. That had a hugely disruptive effect and we will see the same huge disruption again.

The big challenge involves ensuring that there is equality of access to the services that we can deliver via the internet. At the moment, rural areas are behind the pace. It is important that we get them on pace by 2021 and ensure that they are connected. However, as we develop the services, we are going to have to consider who gets the rewards for work that is productive. A lot of work will be of a social and cultural nature because the production of goods and the engagement in the delivery of services will employ a lower proportion of people as time goes on. That is a fact that we will all have to face, whatever our political views. We are going to have to have a debate about the wider effects of changing the way in which we run the modern world.

We also have to consider carefully—Patrick Harvie touched on the point but did not develop it—homogeneity versus diversity. If we get to a position where there are very few sources of services, a mistake or an error in the implementation of those service deliverers will have much wider effects. The first law of epigenetics says that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely it is affected by a change in that environment. The bottom line for today’s debate is that we need diversity of supply and delivery. That way we can move forward together and I am sure that we will do so.

I hope that, in his future contributions, Mr Rumbles will take the opportunity to correct the almost totally misleading contribution that he has made today.


01 November 2016

S5M-01815 Cub Scouts 100th Anniversary

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01815, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, on the 100th anniversary of the cub scouts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the 100th anniversary of the Cub Scouts; congratulates Scouts Scotland on a year of fun, adventure and friendship to celebrate the centenary; notes that Scouting began in 1907 and the adventure of Scouting was extended to a younger audience in 1916 when Wolf Cubs were introduced, which later became the Cub Scouts in 1967; notes that Cub Scouts across the country have been holding events to celebrate, including Craigalmond and Braid districts, which both held adventure camps at Bonaly Outdoor Centre with over 150 Cubs at each camp, and further notes that, on 16 December 2016, the date of the anniversary when Wolf Cubs first launched, Cubs across Scotland and the UK will host promise parties where Cubs and former Cubs will retake their promise and launch the next 100 years of Cub Scouts.

... ... ...

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

I will start by congratulating Jeremy Balfour on giving us the opportunity collectively and individually to revisit, in my case, the many decades that have passed since I was a boy scout.

A 100th anniversary is very significant. Let me like others wish them a very happy anniversary on 16 December, a very happy birthday.

The purpose of the cub scouts is to support young people in their personal development and empower them to contribute to their community. You may find this difficult to believe, but I was a shy, introverted young man when I joined the cubs—absolutely true, just believe me. The cub scouts were a very important part of my personal and social development.

I learned lots of useful skills: how to make a tinker’s oven, so that you could cook a rabbit by coating it in clay, digging a hole, sticking it in the hole, putting a fire on top of it and coming back an hour later and deliciously eating said rabbit. This was prefaced by how to cook a potato by throwing it on a fire and then peeling the burnt bits off afterwards, a start to a culinary expedition that I have continued throughout my life with no success whatsoever, as my wife would tell me.

I have the scars, physical but fortunately not mental, on my body, like so many other cub scouts. They are not, as in Jeremy Balfour’s case, on my knee but on the end of my tongue. I had been tied up and I was hopping across the floor. Someone pulled the rope around my legs while I was in mid-air, causing me to pole-axe and, when my chin hit the floor, my tongue was impaled on my front teeth. The scar is still there; you can come and see it if you wish.

Baden-Powell, who brought the idea of scouting from South Africa and his experiences there, has inspired generations of cubs, scouts, guides and so on.

Corey Tocher, a cub scout leader in Peterhead, exemplifies the spirit of the movement. Just a few months ago, Corey travelled down to London to donate stem cells for the Anthony Nolan trust. He has made a donation that might save somebody’s life. His values and the values of the scout movement are part of him and of all who are in his cub pack. Those values translate into a way of life. The promise, which was originally Christian, now encompasses people of all faiths and those of none. The scout movement now allows girls to join the scouts.

The scout law states:

“A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.”

It continues:

“A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.”

In my time, I used to correspond internationally and swap badges, and I ended up with a blanket that was covered in scout badges of one sort or another. That was part of becoming aware of the world and of becoming aware of my potential and the potential of other people.

It is terrific to be able to step back to that period in the 1950s when I was a cub, and it is terrific to see that the organisation continues to grow and thrive to this day. I wish it all the best for the next 100 years.


S5M-02203 UK Referendum on EU Membership: Justice and Security

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02203, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the United Kingdom referendum on European Union membership: impacts on justice and security in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I gently disagree with Liam Kerr. The person who really defeated Napoleon was a guy called George Scovell, who was Arthur Wellesley’s code-breaker. George Scovell broke Napoleon’s le grand chiffre, and thus, in the peninsular wars in 1812, the man who became Lord Wellington knew exactly what Napoleon’s plans were.

In the modern world, perhaps the use of, access to and protection of data will be equally important, and important things on the European stage relate to that. Government Communications Headquarters was the home of public key cryptography: Crookes and Clifford Cocks were the original inventors, although now its invention is attributed to the 1977 Massachusetts Institute of Technology patent in the name of Rivest, Shamir and Adleman. The secrecy of GCHQ meant that the UK was denied the commercial advantage and intellectual approbation of the world for inventing the software and algorithms that continue to protect our data to this day.

If we cut ourselves off from the world in the way that it appears will be the case, we will not be in a position to develop the means to make and to break cryptography. When we are dealing with crime, we need to be able to break into the codes and encryptions that criminals use and we need to produce robust protections for our data, because that is the very basis of our national security.

Rather than involving the old arguments about hardware, the future will be much more about fighting cyberwars and cybercrime. With people from around the world coming to our universities to share their intellect and their ideas, we are in a position to develop the kind of protections that we need. However, with the cutting of ties to European institutions and the setting up of barriers to the free movement of people, we will not have the intellectual and multinational capacity to fight the world in the internet.

The internet de facto knows no boundaries; it creates commercial, intellectual and cultural opportunity, but it also creates threats to which we need to respond. The internet is a place with fewer rules than we would probably put in place if we developed it from scratch today. It enables people to create spoof emails, it enables phishing attacks by spoof websites and, with wi-fi moving into domestic things such as fridges and lights—the internet of things, as that is now called—it creates further vulnerabilities that require international collaboration.

Only last week, an attack by a bot infected many pieces of domestic equipment and wi-fi via the internet, and it brought down the domain name server that allows people to access Twitter. Some of us might think that having Twitter off the air for four or five hours is probably a very good thing. However, that attack is indicative of the threats that will exist in the future from the activities that can take place on the internet.

We must not pretend that the world of the future is one where barriers will be more controllable than they were in the past; they will be more permeable than at any time in recent history.

Terrorism is not a new thing. The Metropolitan Police special branch was founded in 1883 in response to the Irish republican brotherhood—a domestic terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom, which included Ireland at that time.

International terrorism existed then, too. In January 1911, Winston Churchill attended the siege of Sidney Street, where Latvian revolutionaries—who had been conducting a series of bank raids—had holed themselves up. Special branch and the Army were there to dig them out. Churchill claimed that there were lead bullets in his astrakhan coat from peering from behind the wall to see what was going on and getting himself shot at—whether that is true is perhaps a matter for debate.

In more recent times, we had the Balcombe Street siege in London in 1975, which again involved Irish terrorism. We had the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany and the red brigades in Italy, both of which were entirely domestic. Terrorism crosses boundaries, but it can also grow in communities that are not socially adept at responding to changes.

We have just been through the fifth referendum organised by central Government. The first was in 1975, although there was also a referendum on the League of Nations in 1934. That one was organised by the churches, but everyone in the UK voted. We are now discussing the impact on the justice system of the most recent referendum. Let us go back and think about what that referendum was about.

The question on the ballot paper was a simple one: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the EU or should it leave? That was all. It was not a referendum on immigration, the single market or the European convention on human rights. In fact, the question that we were asked made no reference to matters of justice, the economy or a wide range of other areas. Therefore, we should not read into the result the idea that it tells us that we should leave the single market or unsign the European convention on human rights, which—as Claire Baker reminded us—was very much the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who was at that time a distinguished Conservative member and former Prime Minister. We cannot look at the vote and decide what it means.

Margaret Mitchell told us that we should not reveal anything about our negotiating hand. I predict that, if we go into the chamber where the negotiations take place with a blank sheet of paper, we will come out with a blank sheet of paper.


27 October 2016

S5M-02125 Environment and Climate Change (European Union Referendum)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-02125, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the environment and climate change—European Union referendum.

... ... ...

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

Here we are today with, still, no plan for Brexit nor even any definition of it, to echo Finlay Carson’s words. I will address the last topic that he covered. In 1968 I was a water bailiff for the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, and as a minister I had the great privilege of having dinner with members of the fisheries board in Mr Carson’s constituency. At that time—I am uncertain as to whether it was 2008 or 2009—the board reported that, as a result of the environmental improvements that were made under the previous Labour-Liberal Administration and continued by the SNP Government, the number of wild fish in the River Nith had quadrupled. That is slightly at odds with what I am hearing today. Things may all have gone in the wrong direction since then, but I rather suspect that they have not.

As other members have done, I declare that I am a species champion; I think that someone with a sense of humour must have offered me the opportunity to be the champion for the European spiny lobster. I will address a couple of points that have arisen in the debate.

During the recent referendum campaign, Nigel Farage—who I accept is not the most reliable of sources for political facts—quoted research by the business for Britain campaign suggesting that the UK had been overruled by the EU Council of Ministers on 55 occasions. My research shows that that is entirely wrong—the number of such occasions was 56. However, to provide some context, there were 2,466 decisions on laws, so the number of occasions on which the UK failed to get its own way amounted to just over 1 per cent. The UK has chosen not to reject the overwhelming majority of laws and regulations that have come via the EU Council of Ministers. In our debates, it is always as well to base some of what we say on facts.

I will not claim that the UK said that all the laws that it supported were perfect in every detail; there is always compromise in such matters. As the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through Parliament, I had two hours and 25 minutes to speak on the subject at stage 3—members will be delighted to know that I have only six minutes or so today—and the Queen graciously granted royal assent for the act on my ruby wedding anniversary on 1 August 2009, to my wife’s immense delight.

I apologise unreservedly to Parliament for this Government’s having failed to meet its target: we promised that the reduction would be delivered in 2020, so I unreservedly apologise for our having delivered it in 2014. Similarly, I unreservedly apologise to Parliament for the Scottish Government’s being so far ahead on its renewable energy targets and beating out of the park all the targets that were set. Our failures are to be gloried in, not to be derided.

Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green): I acknowledge the Government’s strong record on electricity, given the difficult times with the subsidy cuts, but is not it the case that we are probably going to miss our 2020 target on heat?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not here to defend everything that the Government has or has not done. I am entirely happy to say that in 2009 we set ourselves, collectively and unanimously, a challenging set of targets across a range of areas. Heat is one of the more challenging areas in which there is clearly more work to be done.

I will pick up on a couple of other things. I direct Maurice Golden to the Scotland Act 1998, schedule 5, head E1, on transport. I find that we have no power whatever to legislate in relation to electric cars. We can provide electric charging points and we can subsidise councils and campaigns to encourage, but we have no powers whatever over electric cars.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD): On electric vehicles, does Stewart Stevenson accept not just that there is a great deal more to be done on installation of the infrastructure, but that maintenance is proving to be a real problem for a lot of EV users across Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson: I am not personally aware of that problem, but I will not attempt to rebut it. I now have a little hybrid car, which is just terrific. It is five years old, and it sometimes does 100 miles per gallon, which I absolutely love. That illustrates a very important point about addressing environmental issues. I am not just benefiting the climate; my wallet is getting a wee handout as well. That is often something that the Tories fail to recognise.

Looking at the text that the Tories want to substitute into the motion, I see that it

“recognises the positive impact that being part of the UK has had on climate change”.

I await news of what that “positive impact” might be. I absolutely recognise the negative impacts of the interference on renewables support from the UK Government. That has not been a helpful situation to be in for a single second.

The environment is not simply the purview of a single legislature or a single state. It is an international issue—one that affects people across Europe and in the world beyond. That is why it is vital that we continue to have the kind of focus that the EU has encouraged us to have, and which has led the way for countries across our continent. That is why we need to continue to adhere to the highest possible standards. We must not sign up to the Tories’ intention to disconnect the peoples of the nations of the UK from international agreements that support the environment—that world that we will bequeath to the next generation who will follow us.


25 October 2016

S5M-01567 Adopt a Station

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01567, in the name of Christine Grahame, on the adopt-a-station programme. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes what it considers the resounding success of the return of the Borders Railway; recognises the economic potential already being realised, and congratulates communities in Gorebridge, Newtongrange, Stow, Galashiels, Tweedbank, Eskbank and also Shawfair, which is adopting its local station with support from ScotRail, which has improved the appearance of the station with planting, flower tubs and hanging baskets and which it considers is a sure sign of how much the railway means to these communities and how proud they are of its return, and congratulates the volunteers who are involved in Adopt a Station projects throughout Scotland, enhancing the rail journey experience for both tourists and commuters.

... ... ...

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

I thank Christine Grahame for the opportunity to discuss the railways, which is one of my favourite topics.

I am a former transport minister and I am president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, which was founded because of the closure of the Borders railway. I am also honorary vice-president for Railfuture UK. The only thing that I lack in my railway credentials is a railway in my constituency, but I note that my ScotRail saltire card does not expire until 2031, so there is still time to remedy that, if I might gently nudge the minister on the matter of getting a railway into my constituency at some future date within the currency of my card.

I join others in congratulating the many volunteers and ScotRail on opening its stations to such a programme. Their joint efforts in the adopt-a-station programme enhance our railways, cheer up travellers and create a talking point as we stand on platforms.

I travelled on the Borders railway the first Sunday after it opened, all the way down to Tweedbank, where I had a delightful lunch and then came back. I have not yet got off at any of the other stations, although I am sure that, as Christine Grahame told us, the stations are improving and being enhanced. It is a spectacular line that is the longest new piece of railway in over a century. As is almost invariably the case with new openings, usage levels are substantially ahead of what the model said. Therefore, when the model says that taking a line from Dyce up to Ellon might not be that great, we should remember that the model has lied to us pretty regularly on a whole series of things. We have now had 1 million people on the Borders railway, and we could do something similar in the north-east. Of course, the economic benefits are substantial. Interestingly, on the Borders railway, end-to-end journeys appear to be a much bigger proportion of journeys than was anticipated.

It was interesting to hear Christine Grahame talk about the need to get a plaque in every station. Become transport minister, and that becomes easy. I have got plaques on the west platform of Queen Street station—I will check that it is still there after the recent refurbishment—and on Laurencekirk, Elgin, Markinch, and Alloa stations. I think, although I cannot be quite certain, that there is also one at Bathgate.

Stations are places of happy memories for me. The porter at Cupar railway station where I lived was Stanislaw Skrodski, who had been a captain in the Polish cavalry and who stayed in Cupar after the war. He had great skill with his welding kit. Given the rather imperfect old cars that my friends and I had, we used to rely on him and we went to the station to get welding done.

My earliest railway journey that I remember was from Benderloch to Oban when I was taken to hospital because I had sunstroke—1956 was a very warm year and railways were very important in my life. They are also very important in the matter of climate change. In 2015, 72 per cent of our transport emissions were from road transport, while 1.3 per cent of transport emissions were from rail.

Rural communities in particular, such as those that are supported by the opening of the Borders railway, get a particular value from railways, because they are further away from the places that people wish to travel to. A railway dramatically opens up those areas. I am sure that there is still much more potential to be opened up from the Borders railway.

On the subject of libraries in railway stations, on the line down to Kyle of Lochalsh, many of the stops are request stops and have little libraries, and one actually has a games room. There are not a lot of trains, so if someone misses one, they will be there for several hours, but they can play dice or poker in the games room. People can do many different things in the rooms of some of those little stations. Stations are loved throughout Scotland. I love the Borders railway, but I would love a railway line to Buchan even more.


06 October 2016

S5M-01828 BBC Royal Charter and Framework Agreement

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01828, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on the draft BBC charter.

... ... ...

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

It is perhaps no surprise, given that the first director general of the BBC, although that would not have been his title then, was a dour Presbyterian Scot, Lord Reith, that the original motto of the BBC was

“Nation shall speak peace unto nation”,

which is an adaptation from the book of Micah, chapter 4, verse 3. The BBC was innovative when it started and it remains so in the modern digital age.

Jackson Carlaw was not entirely incorrect in his response to my attempted intervention. I appeared on the BBC on the shores of Loch Earn when he was three years old. Of course, he missed out some of the most spectacular and impressive pieces of broadcasting that the BBC used to make. His biggest omission, which was due to his failure to accept an intervention, was the wonderful programme on a Sunday afternoon called “The Brains Trust”, which first brought Jacob Bronowski to the public’s attention. Jacob Bronowski later produced, wrote and was the inspiration for probably my favourite BBC programme, “The Ascent of Man”, part of which moves me to tears. He is standing in a concentration camp and he reaches down into a puddle and picks up some mud. He looks at it and then looks at the camera and says, “This is my family.” There is no more stirring piece of television than that piece by Jacob Bronowski, who came to us via “The Brains Trust”. In all honesty, only the BBC could have considered making those programmes.

Of course, it may be that Jackson Carlaw is related to another member of “The Brains Trust”—the Tory MP Gerald Nabarro. However, if Jackson Carlaw remembers anything about him, he will be hoping that they are not related.

The BBC also has the affection of SNP members for a programme that was first broadcast on 24 November 1962, “That Was The Week That Was”. It brought us David Frost for the first time and the wonderful cartoonist Timothy Birdsall. However, fundamentally, what it brought us was a satirical venue in which it was possible to probe the declining strength of the then Conservative Government under Harold Macmillan, and it probably contributed quite significantly to the ending of that period of Tory rule. We have a lot to be grateful to the BBC for.

I was particularly grateful as a youngster to “That Was The Week That Was”, because it was on late on a Saturday night and I was allowed to stay up that late for the first time to watch it, so it was a wonderful programme for me. However, it also illustrated something that we have kind of lost in modern broadcasting because it was of a length that was appropriate to what was going on in the world that week. In other words, if there was more going on, the programme just kept going because it was live and some of the content was improvised during the course of the programme. The rigid timetables that box off programmes today mean that we have lost some of the spontaneity and spark that we had in that programme.

I have a few general comments. The BBC produces one of the best current affairs programmes that come from Scotland—“Eòrpa”—and it has done so for some time. It is a Gaelic programme, but it is subtitled. It enables us to look through Scottish eyes at things that are going on elsewhere, particularly in Europe but occasionally beyond. Only the BBC has the option of making that kind of programme, and we love the BBC for that ability to pick up difficult subjects and bring them to us.

I will make a couple of points that I hope the BBC, which I am sure will be watching this debate, will take on board. BBC Scotland’s Radio Scotland is the poor relation, not simply in terms of the funding and resources that are made available to it but because of how it is delivered to us in the modern digital age. Digital audio broadcasting—DAB—radio, which BBC Scotland is on, is not delivered via any of the BBC multiplexes but via the commercial multiplexes. Two effects stem from that, one of which is that if we are in a car with a DAB radio, it will not retune from multiplex to multiplex as we go across Scotland, whereas we can continue to listen to all the London BBC radio channels as we go across Scotland. Secondly, there is no FM fallback, which means that if we lose the digital signal, there is not enough information provided to our radio set to allow it to fall back to FM, as Radio 4 does.

Radio 4 is one of the crowning glories of the BBC, and many of us in Scotland listen to it, but it has its failings in relation to Scotland but also in relation to the rest of the UK. In the very brief time that I have left, I will give one example. I was listening to a piece on Radio 4 about Sunday trading in England, and comments were being made about how the world would fall apart if shops were allowed to open on Sundays. No reference was made for English audiences to the fact that Scotland has had Sunday trading for many years and the world has not collapsed. However, what was even more fundamental for Scots listeners was that there was no explanation of the Sunday trading situation in England. I did not quite understand it until I went home and looked it up. The piece failed to represent Scotland in an English debate and failed to explain an English issue, which was of interest to us, in a Scottish context. That is simply a metropolitan error that the BBC has to address.

Let us hope that the BBC not only continues to reflect the world to Scotland but continues to reflect Scotland to the world.


04 October 2016

S5M-01257 Hate Crimes against Polish Migrants

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01257, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on hate crimes against Polish migrants. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns recent hate crimes perpetrated against people from Poland living in the UK; recognises that Scotland and Poland have a long-standing, strong and fruitful connection and that this thriving relationship has brought great benefits to both countries, including from the wave of long-settled Polish migrants who came to this country after World War II having resisted Nazism and Stalinism; understands that 92% of Polish-born residents in the UK are in employment or education, which is considerably higher than the figure for people born in the UK; acknowledges that Poles and other migrants from Eastern Europe play a key part in many areas of the Scottish economy, particularly services, agriculture, construction and business; appreciates the high skills and excellent work ethic of Polish people and all that they bring to Cunninghame North and Scotland; believes that the negative rhetoric against Eastern Europeans in Britain has been built up and encouraged, in part, by irresponsible and shameful reporting by sections of the media; understands that, even after over 40 years of EU membership, less than 5% of Britain’s population were born in the other 27 EU countries; strongly condemns hate crimes of all kinds and the upset and fear that they cause; stands in solidarity with Polish people, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and will continue to welcome and support Polish migrants in Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I, too, thank Kenny Gibson for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. When I was a minister in the Scottish Government, I found myself very regularly representing the UK in discussions with Polish ministers. I have never been quite sure why that was the case; perhaps the UK Government simply recognised the natural affinity that we Scots have with many people in Poland.

I first became aware of the Poles through a friendship with the person who became my boy scouts patrol leader, Zbigniew Klemens Skrodzkie. He was a result of one of the 200,000 marriages between Scots and Poles, when Janet Barclay married Captain Stanislaw Skrodzkie of the Polish cavalry. Zbigniew and his sister Felicja were the result of that marriage. Bush—Bush is the nickname by which people who are called Zbigniew are pretty universally known in Poland—was a terrific character. He was much admired by my friends, and perhaps envied because he had a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle.

I could tell many tales about Bush. He continued the record of service that existed across the Polish community to Scotland and the UK. He followed in the steps of many Poles who had come to fight against the Nazis. It is worth making the point that the four Polish squadrons based in Scotland had a strike rate against the enemy that was two and half times greater than that of the pilots in indigenous squadrons. Bush joined the Royal Naval Air Service. Perhaps not surprising to us, he managed to have three crashes in his first four years. Unfortunately, the last one was fatal. We still miss Bush to this day. Bush is just one of the many Poles who have contributed enormously to our community.

The history of the connection between Scotland and Poland is significant. To this day, many towns and cities in Poland have parts of their city called Nova Scotia—new Scotland. Gdansk also has somewhere called Stary Sztoky—old Scotland. Warsaw has a similar place and Kraków, which used to be the capital of Poland, similarly has a new Scotland.

The links between us go deep and they have been long established. Indeed, in 1585, the Polish-Lithuanian king Stephen Batory said, of the Scots:

“Our Court can not be without them, that supply Us with all that is necessary ... Let a certain district be assigned to them.”

The Scots were singled out in the 1500s for their contribution to Polish life.

Today, the Poles are contributing enormously. In each of the four secondary schools in my constituency, Polish is one of the languages that are represented among the pupils. On Saturday, I attended the graduation ceremony at my local college, where a significant number of people from Poland were graduating and making the most of their potential.

Let me address the more fundamental issue that has led to this debate, which is the ill treatment and racism to which too many of our Polish friends have been subjected. Robert Kennedy, the well-known United States politician, said:

“when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies—to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.”

He was correct. He was also correct to say that such a view is unacceptable in a civilised society. Tonight, we unite to send a message to our Polish friends: we are with you; stay with us.


27 September 2016

S5M-01669 Rural Economy (European Union Referendum)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01669, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on securing the interests of Scotland’s rural economy following the European Union referendum.

... ... ...

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

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for your confidence in the value of my contribution.

The Tories might be well advised not to try to fight previous battles. Mr Chapman referred to independence four times in the first two minutes of his speech and seven times in all. We have had an additional reference from Dean Lockhart. In last week’s debate on the economy, the Tories made 15 references to independence. I will focus on the subject of today’s debate, because that is what matters to people in rural Scotland.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is absolutely correct when it talks about the opportunities that derive from Brexit. Throughout my political life, I have campaigned against the common fisheries policy—there is no change from this member of Parliament. However, we must be careful to ensure that Westminster is not allowed to sell out the interests of our fish-catching sector again, as it did when it took us into the common fisheries policy. A Tory Government did that and we cannot allow a Tory Government to do such a thing again.

I also agree with NFU Scotland, which seeks

“common ground on the major ‘red lines’ of future trade agreements, agricultural support and labour”

in its industry. I hope that we can make progress in the debate and agree that it is important that our agricultural industries continue to have access to labour. Even Scottish strawberries might be under threat if we cannot get people to come and pick them.

On fishing, which is the issue that is of most concern to my constituents, control over our fishing grounds is a must-win issue for fishing communities in Scotland and beyond. The chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which is roughly the English equivalent of our SFF, said—correctly—in last week’s Fishing News that the

“issues will be ... access (our boats in other nation’s waters, foreign boats in ours)”.

In the murky waters of international negotiations, it seems that anything goes. The internal negotiations in the UK, which generally involve decisions simply being handed down from UK ministers, illustrate that.

In the past year, we have seen a delay over the summer monkfish swap, which the cabinet secretary referred to; preference given to English white-fish trawlers on whiting and Arctic cod; top slicing of North Sea whiting from Scotland handed to the English inshore fleet; and an allocation of an excessive amount of mackerel—again, to the English inshore fleet.

When a UK position is determined, there must be agreement from all the jurisdictions that the issue affects and not simply a position that reflects the needs of one. Scottish ministers are well used to representing the UK and agreed UK positions on the international stage. A quick look at my ministerial diaries identified at least five occasions on which I represented the UK on a UK position. Of course, negotiations proceed in part along paths that are determined by the party that is on the opposite side of the table. That means that one needs a minister who is at the top of his or her game to lead on the negotiations.

As it happens, in Scotland we have some of the best negotiation trainers in the world. I wrote about their methods in today’s Banffshire Journal. If members want to read my comments, they can do so at

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD): I cannot wait.

Stewart Stevenson: The comments are excellent, Mr Rumbles, and are well worth a read.

If we are to give our industry confidence, we need the minister who leads on fisheries negotiations for the UK to have a bigger stake in the outcome than any UK minister is likely to have—we need a Scottish minister. That is likely to be good for UK fishermen outwith Scotland, because such a minister is much less likely to sell out fishing industries for some undisclosed trade-off, as happened 40 years ago.

Let us look at the position of the Tory UK Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell. He is a rich source of quotations. In The Press and Journal, he said:

“the idea we would go back to a position where we were entirely in control of our own fishing is not one that is realistic.”

Before talks have even started, Scotland’s fishermen are again being sold out by the Tories, just as they were during the CFP negotiations.

We must also consider the position of communities that depend on processing the bounty of our seas, from the artisanal smokehouses and processors in small west coast and island communities to the large industrial processors in my constituency and elsewhere. For them, access to labour and access to market are vital. The EU is the largest fish market in the world and it takes, in particular, premium products, which have the highest margins and therefore contribute differentially to higher profits, compared with other markets. Outside the single market, even when there is access to it, countries find it particularly difficult to export to the EU without cost and time penalties and without discrimination against particular fish species and food products.

Furthermore, without the many foreign nationals who work in fish processing, production must inevitably drop. We simply cannot staff the factories in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, in Fraserburgh and in Peterhead without nationals from elsewhere.

The UK Government is as opaque as ever about its plans. There are emerging indications of what is called hard Brexit, to which other members referred. Such an approach would hit fishing communities particularly hard and undermine the advantages that would be derived from leaving the common fisheries policy.

In the debate, the Tories are trying to cover their failures by referring to other matters. What has got us to the situation that we are in is the blank sheet of paper that is the plan for Brexit, which is still blank. The Tories’ approach contrasts with what happened in 2014, when a 650-page document was produced that contained plans that could be analysed, dissected and attacked.

In the 1800s, the Austrian empire’s foreign minister, Count Metternich, said:

“Events which cannot be prevented must be directed.”

Brexit cannot now be prevented. It is time for a wee bit of direction from the UK Government. If the UK Government will not do it, we will tell it what to do.


21 September 2016

S5M-00302 Good Food from Angus

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00302, in the name of Graeme Dey, on promoting good food from Angus. I presume that it refers to the place rather than the person. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the establishment of The Food Life in Angus; understands that this collective is made up of local producers and aims to promote good food from Angus; believes that this is part of a growing effort across Scotland to promote good quality, sustainable and local food; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to implementing the Good Food Nation policy, and notes calls for it to take further steps to promote Scotland’s food and drink sector, including the appointment of a National Chef to champion Scottish produce.

... ... ...

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

It is cruel that Graeme Dey has brought to Parliament today the subject of promoting good food from Angus, because today is one of my two no-food days in an attempt to contain the ever-expanding waistline. That is caused entirely by my love of food, much of which is good-quality Scottish food. I am not necessarily pleased with my colleague about that.

Graeme Dey omitted, of course, one of the gems of his area that I and others enjoy: the Forfar bridie. I am quite mystified by that. I understand that it has protected status. I beg your pardon—I have just had a whisper from Graeme Dey that the Forfar bridie might be from Angus but it is not from his constituency. Therefore, he may be forgiven.

I thought to myself that we might pray for an Indian summer. We have not put the barbecue away, and I see a smokie sitting on our barbecue wrapped in a piece of tinfoil with some Graham’s spreadable butter, which includes oilseed rape, of course. That was brought to the peak of culinary excellence by a farmer on a farm adjacent to Peterhead. It is, of course, Scottish butter. The smokie would also have garlic from Elgin. I now know that, while watching and smelling that delicious food from Angus cooking on the barbecue, I would be able to sip gin from an Angus distillery. Even better, we could get sloes from Dumfriesshire, which is the best place to get them from, and make sloe gin whose sweetness would absolutely augment that food.

I am beginning to slaver in anticipation of the event that will take place at 6 o’clock. There are still 350 calories that I am allowed to eat today, so I hope to join Graeme Dey.

Notwithstanding the excellent food from Angus, we are missing the crème de la crème of food. I have a secret deal that I will reveal for the very first time. At the election before the most recent one, my Conservative opponent was a fisherman called Michael Watt, whom I get on with extremely well—he is a very nice chap. He supplies me with cod roe. There is nothing on earth that I love more than cod roe. We will have to move it up the food chain, as well. I think that the new name for it is Scottish white caviar. I look forward to seeing its being marketed as that.

In all seriousness, the Scottish Government, with the support of members across the chamber, promotes the good food nation policy, because what we eat determines our health, our girth and much of our economy. Peter Chapman correctly referred to the economic value of good-quality food. We are not going to compete with the rest of the world on price where food is concerned—that is very unlikely; there are very few things that we can compete with on price—but we will always be able to compete on quality.

I am delighted to find that Angus is stepping up to the mark in seeking to meet and perhaps even overtake at some distant point in time the quality of the food that we have produced for many years in the north-east of Scotland.

I congratulate the food producers of Angus on their efforts and look forward to tasting more of them in the future. It is not just about farmers, of course. I also look forward to eating the ripening brambles that I see on my hedgerows as part of the natural foraging that provides excellent food from Scotland’s nature bounty, which we can all enjoy.


S5M-01554 NHS Staffing

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01554, in the name of Donald Cameron, on NHS Scotland staffing.

... ... ...

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

I will start on a note of consensus, with which I hope that everyone agrees. There is not a party or a person in the chamber who would say that we should scrap the NHS and have something different. We are having a debate about how we all wish to improve the performance of the NHS to support the people in our country with a free-at-the-point-of-need health service. That is very much the Chinese model of providing healthcare, which goes back thousands of years. People only paid their medical practitioner when they were well, and they had access to their skills when they were ill. In essence, that is what our NHS is about.

The history of how we got here is a long one. If we look at death records from the Victorian era, we find that around 50 per cent of them show that the person concerned died without any medical attendant certifying the cause of death. Access to health services 150 years ago was a privilege available only to the few.

In 1911, Lloyd George introduced an old-age pension for the first time, and that started to lay the basis for the provision of support to people who could not necessarily afford to provide it for themselves. I should also say that my Aunt Stewart registered as a nurse in 1923, a year after the establishment of the nursing register, and her sister registered a year later.

In 1945, my father, at the rather elderly age of 41, graduated—

Neil Findlay: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will, if the member wishes.

Neil Findlay: Perhaps every time the member gives this speech, he should alert me and Jackson Carlaw so that we can leave the chamber. We have heard it umpteen times before, but I am sure that it will entertain the new members. [Laughter.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame):
That was a cruel intervention.

Stewart Stevenson: I thought that it was one of Mr Findlay’s kinder interventions; after all, he is a man not known for his passivity in engaging with his opponents. Indeed, I welcome his hostility, as it is a clear indication that I am on the right path. [Laughter.]

My father graduated MB ChB in 1945 at the relatively advanced age of 41. That was, of course, before the health service was established. He very much welcomed its establishment; he was the traditional old-style GP whom we used to have in the 1950s and 1960s. The front room of the house was the surgery; there were no ancillary staff; his working hours were 7.30 in the morning until 9 o’clock at night; and the range of services he provided and the skills he had were probably substantially fewer than those of a nurse practitioner in today’s GP practices. We have come a very long way indeed.

In fact, when I worked as a nurse in 1964, our staffing levels were substantially worse than they are now. I remember one weekend when we worked 13 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday, and there were only two of us on duty in the ward when there should have been six. That was not an uncommon occurrence. Things have therefore got better, although they are yet to achieve perfection.

We have an ageing population. I am not, thanks to Gil Paterson, the oldest person speaking in the debate, but I am one of those who might reasonably expect in the near future to make greater calls on the health service. Like many of my age group, I am benefiting particularly from screening programmes, most recently in my case—and I know that everyone in the chamber wants to know this—from bowel screening. Details will be available at the back of the chamber later. Of course, my wife and others of her age group have for many years experienced different kinds of gender-related screening that are appropriate to them. Brian Whittle is absolutely right: preventative care is a very important part of achieving health for us.

I want to say a word or two about rural services, given that much of my constituency is essentially rural. When I first got elected in 2001, I found it impossible to get either an NHS dentist or even a private dentist, such was the shortage. Now we have a good dental health service, partly because of the actions of the previous Administration, which have been continued and supported by the present one. However, that service is threatened by Brexit, because most of the new dentists come from Poland. They are excellent dentists, and they are highly respected and valued by people in their communities. That pattern is, of course, repeated across the country. I should also say that my first dentist was unqualified, so it is clear that we have made enormous progress in dentistry, too.

It is worth saying that although we have many more GPs, it is increasingly difficult to get them to work in rural practices. The work is harder and more diverse, and it takes more time. I therefore very much welcome the support that has been given by NHS Grampian and the Government in looking for more GPs to work in rural practices. I am thinking in particular of GPs who are in training; we have training practices, and those GPs learn a lot and realise that living in a country location is good for their personal, mental and physical health and presents an opportunity to support people in communities right across rural areas.

I will say a final thing.

Let us get the Tories really on message on preventative care and get them supporting minimum pricing for alcohol. That would be a good start.

I could give members another dozen examples if I had time.


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