29 June 2016

S5M-00007 Srebrenica Genocide (21st Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00007 in the name of Michael Russell, on commemorating the 21st anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the 21st anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica in Bosnia, in which over 8,000 Bosnians, mostly men and including many young men, were murdered, takes place in July 2016; understands that the United Kingdom’s Srebrenica Memorial Week organised by the charity, Remembering Srebrenica, will run from 10 to 17 July with the theme, 21: Coming of age – time to act; is mindful that many Bosnian young people did not have the chance to celebrate their coming of age as a result of the massacre and the war; considers that it has never been more important to engage with all young people and teach them that racial and religious hatred can lead to genocide, and hopes that the events of the commemoration will inspire people to challenge hatred of all types and work to create a more cohesive and tolerant society.

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

Like others, I thank Mike Russell for gaining time for this important debate. The subject is very hard. It is difficult to accept that we are talking about something that happened as recently as 21 years ago, which is within the lifetime of all the members who are in the chamber. It is 21 years since the Srebrenica genocide. In the life of the human race, that is hardly a heartbeat—it is just yesterday.

Many of those who died were young men and women and, tragically, they were not the only ones. As I revisit eyewitness accounts, photos and newspaper articles, I see the horror, the terror and the sorrow. I see families—people like us who sought to live.

The Balkans were a crucible of the first world war and experienced significant difficulties throughout the 20th century that culminated in what happened with the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. The push for democratic reform after the end of the Soviet Union was met with oppression and civil war burst out all over the region.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo cascaded into chaos as Miloševic orchestrated his campaign. The media in the area portrayed families of other ethnicities as rapists or violent killers; the media condoned and indeed encouraged violence towards them. The venom that was kindled incited hatred that caused perhaps 140,000 deaths and certainly ruined millions of lives. In another context, Margo MacDonald said, “The living shall envy the dead.” Perhaps that was how many of those who survived felt.

Srebrenica was emblematic of the ethnic hatred that Slobodan Miloševic and Ratko Mladic stirred up. In Srebrenica, they conjured terror and murder that were aimed squarely at the Bosniak Muslim population. It was a programme of ethnic cleansing.

In a witness account, one woman recounted how she left Srebrenica to find safety, only to be raped upon arrival in Tisca. Another survivor recounted the harrowing tale of the death of young boys and a 14-year-old rape victim. She said:

“They took some boys who were about ten or eleven. We never saw them again. Everyone was in a panic, trying to hide their boys. While this was going on, the girl slipped off to the side, took a scarf, tied it around her neck and hanged herself ... By the time we found her she was dead.”

The events were fuelled by a vicious campaign of xenophobia. Thousands upon thousands died, millions were displaced and the use of sexualised violence and torture was commonplace. A tragic capacity for hatred and racism lives in the human race.

We must remember all those who died, and support those who survived. There is nothing so toxic to civilization as violence and nothing so toxic to the spirit as hatred. Today, the lessons are as important as ever. When Senator Robert F Kennedy, who himself met a violent end, talked about the disease of violence in our civilization, he said:

“We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.”

I will conclude by going back 100 years and quoting a little bit of poetry by W B Yeats that was written at the time of the first world war:

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”


16 June 2016

S5M-00247 Post-study Work Visas (Rural Communities)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani):
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00247, in the name of Kate Forbes, on rural communities and the post-study work visa. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the case of the Brain family, who migrated from Australia to the Scottish Highlands; understands that the Brain family intended to apply for a post-study work visa in order to remain in Scotland; believes that attracting young families to live in rural areas such as Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch is essential for the economic and social success of rural Scotland, and believes that rural communities would benefit from a new post-study work visa scheme.

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

I, too, congratulate Kate Forbes on obtaining time for the debate. I thank my work placement student for the week—Daisy Collins—who has done the research and written the notes that I will use during my speech.

Scotland has been greatly enhanced by the diversity that comes with immigration—people from different nations who have freely chosen to build their lives here. It is hard to imagine any area of human activity that has not benefited from that input—economically, politically, socially and culturally; in our classrooms, surgeries and elsewhere; and in our towns and rural villages. Especially in remote areas, the endeavours of people from different backgrounds are evident to us all and continue to be overwhelmingly positive.

However, the current rules that have been imposed by Westminster, and which we have been discussing, are driven by the needs of another area in these islands: the populous—some might say overpopulous—parts of the south. Certain parts of the Conservative Party have rather cynically taken the opportunity to use immigration to pander to other agendas, which has resulted in backward-looking immigration rules that help no one and which utterly fail to reflect the stark divide between Scotland’s needs—and, almost certainly, those of disadvantaged areas in England—and those of the rest of the UK.

That is to the detriment of our economy, our education system and, in particular, the rural communities that are the focus of the motion. It is for that reason that I support the motion to reinstate the post-study work visa. We need a fair and robust system that is sensitive, intelligent and designed to support the requirements of all the countries of the UK. When, in 2012, the coalition Government decided to scrap the visa, our potential as a nation was fantastically weakened and all our futures were affected by that.

If we continue to support and allow unnecessary barriers, we all suffer—in the short term and the long term. We miss out on the enormous gene pool that comes from international students. In particular, there is a direct and very personal effect on the Brain family and other families. It is a bankrupt policy whose time for abolition has come. We are losing a well of talent. We want to accept in Scotland people who will train with us and develop our society. Otherwise, we get a Brain drain.

We have heard from a number of members about the effect on the number of international students coming to Scotland, especially given the counter-attractions of other nations. The impact of that decline is economic as well as practical and moral, and it is very much to be regretted.

Historically, there has been emigration from our rural communities, which does not help. My family, like other Scottish families, is represented in countries including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Denmark, and even the odd place like Lebanon. If we prevent people from coming here, the odds are that our people will find it more difficult to travel, which helps no one.

We have to strengthen and enhance our economy and our cultural diversity. The current policy does not help us, and the long-term effects are obvious and depressing. It is time that we used a post-study work visa scheme as a lever to tackle depopulation in our rural communities. We need a sensible post-study work visa system because the current arrangements simply do not work.


15 June 2016

S5M-00448 Economy

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a Scottish Labour Party debate on motion S5M-00448, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on the economy.

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

As Ivan McKee adumbrated, I shall talk about the effect of the oil industry’s difficulties in the north-east.

I will respond to a couple of points before I do so. Murdo Fraser should be more cautious in praising the brevity and conciseness of the UK tax code. The UK Government itself reports that, from 759 pages in the 1965-66 tax year, the code is now 11,520 pages, and the legislation upon which it is founded constitutes 2,413 pages. That is substantially more than many other places. I recognise that Mr Fraser quoted correctly, but he needed a wider context.

On Jackie Baillie’s contribution—the member should listen up because this is unusual—I say that I found her analysis more focused and more relevant to the debate than I often do, although I am of course going to disagree with some of the conclusions that she draws. However, I encourage her to live up to the improvement in her contribution that we have heard today.

My constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast is home to the world’s biggest offshore oil support base at Peterhead. Many of my constituents work offshore in our own waters but they also take their expertise to many corners of the world—to South America, the Philippines and the Horn of Africa—where there is oil exploration.

Those facts go to the heart of a very important thing about the industry in the north-east and in my constituency: we have skills that have been built up over a long time that will sustain us over the long term, if we have the opportunity to use them. People have been denied the opportunity to take their skills to the new renewable energy industries that we had expected—many of which would have been offshore, where there would have been a particular relevance to the skills of the engineers and people who work offshore in the oil and gas industry. That is a particularly hurtful blow to the future economic and personal prospects of the north-east.

I disagree with Patrick: he said that this is an industry without a long-term future.

The industry is, in fact, a long-term proposition—not, as Mr Harvie says, a short-term proposition—but it may not be as fuel. We can solve the issue of using oil and gas as fuel; we have yet to make a big impression in the use of oil and gas as chemical feedstock, so it will remain an important part of the industrial environment, even as we move away from using oil and gas as fuel.

Patrick Harvie: The member makes a serious point, which I did acknowledge has a place in the argument. However, given the impact on investment in the North Sea at the moment, if this material—hydrocarbons—was able to be used only for non-fuel chemical feedstocks and not for fuel, does Mr Stevenson really think that it would be economically viable as an investment?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Harvie is clearly listening to a different speech from the one that I gave, because I did not say that. I pointed to the long-term future because Mr Harvie said that there was none. I suggest that there is a long-term future.

A third of our oil remains, and that is only of the stocks that we have found; we are still finding oil in our sector. The Norwegians are finding oil—for example, they found some in the Johan Sverdrup field relatively recently. Opportunities will continue to be there; there will be opportunities for investment. We have seen the successes of smaller companies, which various people have referred to in the debate.

I now say a word or two about fracking, which is the last part of the Conservative motion, and why it is right that we have a moratorium on the subject. I reference the United States experience, because there is quite a lot of it. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety in the US talks about workers being

“regularly exposed to high levels of benzene, which is a known carcinogen”.

The institute also talks about exposure to silicosis, which is a deadly lung disease.

The BMJ talks about

“Volatile organic compounds and diesel particulate matter”

being reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency. An academic paper that was published in New Solutions talks about health conditions that

“became worse after shale gas development started”

in their area. Participants in that survey reported worsening existing conditions and new conditions in human beings, animals and household pets.

The EPA reports that there is uncertainty about how many incidents there are but says that, in Colorado, it can be as much as 12.2 spills for every 100 wells, with all the consequences that flow from that. It says that the spills reached surface water in 9 per cent of cases and contaminated soil in 64 per cent of cases.

The EPA also says that not everything is known, and I accept that. That is why a moratorium is right and why we should look further at the research to underpin a long-term decision.

The US experience tells us that we cannot proceed with shale gas in the present circumstances, but oil and gas in the north-east certainly needs support. More important, we need renewables to become the focus, and the UK Government is letting the people in my area in the north-east of Scotland seriously down in that regard.


01 June 2016

S5M-00226 Taking Scotland Forward: Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-00226, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on taking Scotland forward: environment, climate change and land reform.

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

I declare that I have a very small investment—I think that it is about £300—in a community wind farm at Boyndie, which is near where I live and is in my constituency.

I congratulate Andy Wightman on his first speech; we will listen with interest to his subsequent speeches. When I was a minister, the last time that I met and had a serious discussion with him was on an act of the Scottish Parliament—not an act of this Parliament but the Common Good Act 1491. That act was interacting with the Long Leases (Scotland) Bill, which Andy Wightman was interested in and which I as minister was taking through Parliament.

Similarly, I congratulate Mr Burnett on his first speech. I will listen with interest to his future contributions while having no great expectations of having major agreements with him on their content.

I will spend a bit of time on climate justice, which I have spoken about before. In 2012, we initiated what was then thought—and is still thought—to be the first parliamentary debate on climate justice anywhere in the world. We were very much inspired by the work of Mary Robinson, who is a former President of the Republic of Ireland. She is now a feisty campaigner for climate justice around the world. The Mary Robinson Foundation describes climate justice as something that

“links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.”

That is an excellent place to start any analysis of the effects of climate change.

We have heard reference to the flooding that took place in north-east Scotland, but the flooding affected not simply the north-east—it affected the south of Scotland and many places across these islands. The losses that individuals experienced were of more than simply homes and furniture—entire lives were put on hold, health was affected and psychological and practical safety was eroded.

The Scottish Government responded well—£12 million was released in January to aid those who were affected by the floods. That was the correct response, but preventative measures are also important, because we must head off disasters before they happen. We cannot remain at the mercy of climate change.

For the rest of the world, the issue is even greater. In Scotland, the UK and the developed world as a whole, we have the resources to respond. However, in the Philippines between 2005 and 2016, for example, it is thought that $16 billion of damage arose from climate change as a result of the rising of the oceans and the intensification of typhoons. The 2014 “World Disasters Report” showed that nearly 2 billion people were affected by disasters over the 10 years to 2013. About 95 per cent of those who suffered were in medium-development or low-development countries. We who have benefited from the industries that have created the problem of climate change through anthropogenic effects are not the ones who are paying the cost.

Climate change is also a gender issue because—particularly in Africa—it is women who are differentially most adversely affected by it. They are often the gatherers of wood and the transporters of water; they are having to travel further to get those materials and that is an effect that is specific to gender. We in the developed world have to work collaboratively with people around the world on this issue, and I am delighted that we are doing so.

In the last part of my speech, I will turn to some of the things that John Scott and other Conservatives have said about how jobs can be created by fracking. Those comments are entirely hypocritical—we have seen a turning away from the prospect of jobs from carbon capture and storage at Peterhead in my constituency and in the north of England as well. We have seen a closing down of the future prospects for renewable energy sources—tidal, wind, offshore—by the changing of the regime. At the same time, we are prepared to engage Electricité de France to build Hinckley Point nuclear power station to generate electricity at many times the cost that we could do so with renewables.

Finally, I say gently to my colleagues in the Labour seats that, although I do not stand between them and their arguments against fracking—I am of course with them—the amendment that they invite us to support at 5 o’clock tonight is one which will bring fracking closer, not move it away. If we make a decision against fracking without subsequently being able to defend a judicial review in court based on evidence, we will bring forward the date at which companies can bring fracking to Scotland. That is why I will not be supporting the Labour amendment, although I will support the words that have been said by many of the members.


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