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.


20 September 2016

S5M-00578 Eye Health Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00578, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on eye health week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament marks Eye Health Week, which runs from 19 to 25 September 2016; believes that, since the World Health Organization has suggested that 50% of sight loss is preventable, a greater sense of urgency is needed with regard to eye health; is concerned that an ageing population, increases in diabetes and poor diet might contribute to a doubling of the number of visually impaired people in Scotland over the next 20 years; welcomes the continuation of free eye health checks; further welcomes what it believes is vital Scottish Government planning and investment for the long-term to contain sight-threatening diseases and the government’s commitment to public eye health campaigns, especially among vulnerable groups where there are reports of low awareness about free eye health checks; understands that these include the lower socio-economic groups, ethnic minority groups and people at high risk through associated health conditions, and thanks the country’s eye health professionals, RNIB Scotland, Optometry Scotland, the Scottish Council on Visual Impairment, community-based societies for blind people, Guide Dogs and other third sector organisations for the hard work that they do to support people with sight loss in Greenock and Inverclyde and across Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on his motion, which is allowing us to debate an important subject.

Sight is but one of our senses, of course, and they all add to life’s richness. When we hear music it moves us, when we taste food it satisfies us, and when we see light it inspires us. Each sensory perception is extraordinary and each is an instrument of life. However, senses are a great deal more than that. They are valuable for their functions, but also as indicators of our general health. If it is protected, the resulting good health will yield encouraging social and economic benefits.

The primary issue tonight is a discussion around health; our sensory faculties directly affect, and are affected by, our health. Much like our senses, health is central to our experience. Of all life’s gifts, health bestows the greatest benefit. Wealth is, by a long way, secondary to health.

We now live in a country that is ageing; I shall be 70 next month myself, and I suffer from five sight defects: myopia, hypermetropia, astigmatism, presbyopia and—the one that cannot be corrected by my spectacles—low-light myopia, as the cells in my eyes deteriorate. None of those is unusual, and we will all experience them to some degree as we get older.

Of course, from looking into the eye, we can see more than simply optical defects or the deterioration of the cells in the eye. Diabetes is a sight-threatening condition, so the substantial increase in the incidence of diabetes creates vulnerability in the eye health of the country. More than ever, we need effective access to treatment. Of course, the gateway to treatment is eye examinations, which is why the NHS examinations are a necessary and very intelligent tool.

The examinations test much more now than they did when my astigmatism was first diagnosed when I was in my 20s. However, the tool is of no value if people do not actually use it. We need more people to go for eye tests and we need to make more people aware of the option of eye tests. Some people do not go because they do not realise that they can have a free eye test, whereas others do not realise the wider health benefits that may accrue from detecting, through an eye test, another condition that may exist. Testing can, of course, prevent the slow process of visual impairment, but it can also be a window on systemic problems.

Eye health week is therefore a huge opportunity for health in Scotland and it is an opportunity, through debates such as this and wider activity across Scotland, to create a new baseline for eye health and, through that, a baseline for overall health. The testing is an indicator of health problems and can be used to prevent them, and eye health is a key element in our general wellbeing.

We all kind of know the importance of our eyes. We rely on them and take them for granted, but not all of us look after them as we should. Early treatment of conditions that can be seen through the eyes means that there are wider community and economic benefits, but it will also make people healthier and happier. We limit treatment cost and minimise loss by preventative measures and through being proactive. We want people to know about the availability of eye tests and we want them to benefit their personal health by taking them. Apparently, one in four people in Scotland does not know that eye exams are free.

We have heard from Stuart McMillan about the many organisations that work on the subject. As, I am sure, other members will, I indicate my support for the work that they do. I was previously a deputy convener of the cross-party group on visual impairment, so I know from experience about the important work that is done.

There are social and economic benefits from good eyesight and from testing eyesight. I hope that all members will continue to press on this important issue.


S5M-01531 Economy (EU Referendum)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01531, in the name of Keith Brown, on Scotland’s economy: responding to the European Union referendum. I call the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work to speak to and move the motion.

... ... ...

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

Let me pick up a couple of points that have arisen so far, in particular from Liam Kerr. I will start with a point of agreement with him to set a favourable tone. Change is certainly opportunity for those who have the energy and ideas, but it is also a challenge that we have to respond to. That is always the case, whatever the nature of change. At least I have started with that agreement.

I will briefly pick up the suggestion that the Government has never said anything about the Faroes and fishing. On 10 August 2010, Richard Lochhead condemned Iceland and the Faroes. Then, in an answer to a parliamentary question that was lodged by Jean Urquhart on 10 February 2012—I will give members its number so that they can write it down: it is S4W-05594—Richard Lochhead said that he found

“no access to Faroese waters ... regrettable”. [Written Answers, 9 March 2012; S4W-05594.]

In 2014, the First Minister met the Faroese Prime Minister to discuss the subject. On 9 December 2015, Richard Lochhead said that the fisheries deal in relation to the Faroes was “unacceptable”.

If I had had as much time researching Liam Kerr’s false claim as I have spent rebutting it, I suspect that I could have come up with a 1,000-page book.

I will now move on to Murdo Fraser, who referred to state aid rules. He was, of course, correct. If the UK is outside the EU, the state aid rules of the EU will not be binding on it. That is probably fair comment, but abandoning the state aid rules is not without pain if the country wishes to trade with the EU. It will find that it is unable to do so.

Let me pick up a point that has emerged in the debate about having access to the single market or being a member of it. In particular, I will use Switzerland as an example. It has access to the single market, but it is not a member of it. That means in practice that it can trade in goods across the border by and large, but there are significant restrictions on access for agricultural goods, very little access for professional services, and virtually no access for financial services. That is not a trivial matter. Financial services account for 12 per cent of the UK’s economic output. In considering whether we should be a member of the single market or merely have access to it, we should not imagine that they equate to each other. They are choices that can be made—that is a perfectly proper view—but they are not the same thing; Switzerland tells us that.

I have been talking about banking, so I should declare that, as I voluntarily set out in the register of members’ interests, I have shares in Lloyds Bank that are below the declarable limit.

I want to talk a bit about the area that I represent. Parts of the Aberdeenshire and Moray council areas are in my constituency. Aberdeenshire Council undertook a study that suggests that £11 million of secured EU funding might be at risk. I think that similar scenarios will be repeated across Scotland. In particular, it will affect the north-east Scotland fisheries local action group, which is likely to lose money from the European maritime and fisheries fund. The north-east farming sector receives between £75 million and £100 million in EU subsidies every year. The subsidies appear to be guaranteed for some period of time, but the long-term situation is very uncertain indeed.

I want to talk a little bit about technology generally and about how leaving the EU and being outside the European single market might affect it. In particular, I want to talk about the unified patent court. At the moment, if someone wishes to register a patent in the EU, they can do so once. Outside the EU—outside the court, which is a creature of the EU—they will have to register their patent 28 times. That is a significant burden on innovation in Scotland, which of course invented most of the modern world, and in the UK as a whole. Of course, we will also have far less influence over patent law.

We will also be shutting ourselves off from the European digital single market, which provides data protection and better access to products and services at a reduced cost. That single market is also driving acceptance of and innovation in digital services by setting pan-European standards. For example, there is the debate around the prospect of 5G mobile phone communications. That market is important to Scotland and it is important to the UK.

It is fair to say that some constituencies will be more affected than others. For example, one constituency has the Tesla Motors EU headquarters, the Hutchison 3G headquarters, Informatica and Adobe, which are products that we use every day, Quest Software and a huge number of other companies. Where are those particular companies? They are in Maidenhead, which—as those members who may know a little about it will know—is the constituency that the Prime Minister represents. I hope that, when she sits down with those companies and looks at the problems that innovators and technology companies will experience as a result of the policy that her Government has put in place, she will be challenged about those problems. I hope that that leads to her realising that we have to minimise the adverse impact of leaving the EU by ensuring that we do not simply have access to the single market but stay as a member of the single market.

Finally, a survey of 1,000 Europeans working in the UK that was done by Totaljobs suggests that 25 per cent of them are prepared to reconsider career options outside the UK—another hammer blow if we do not have free movement of people.


14 September 2016

S5M-01412 European Union Referendum

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01412, in the name of Michael Russell, on the implications of the European Union referendum result and the United Kingdom’s negotiated position.

... ... ...

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

The common fisheries policy of the EEC and EU has hung over the fish catchers in my constituency ever since the Tory Government sold out our interests when they took us in.

You will not find a single occasion when I have stated that it was good for us. I agree with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s helpfully concise briefing, which says that we need

“fairer and more appropriate shares of catching opportunities for the Scottish fishing industry within our own waters”.

It is worth saying, parenthetically, that the establishment of the 200-mile limit did not necessarily extinguish access for countries which fished in those waters prior to its establishment, and it is not clear whether leaving the CFP will deliver all these waters to Scotland—but that is for another day.

My first speech on the CFP was here in 2001, on the day after I was sworn in to Parliament. I was able to say then:

“I am happy to agree with Jamie McGrigor”

—who was then a Tory MSP—

“who spoke yesterday of the need for more local control. We in the SNP have advocated that for many years.” —[Official Report, 14 June 2001; c 1670.]

I go further in two respects. One of the most frustrating aspects of the common fisheries policy for our fishermen lies in our ability to suspend fishing rights in an area of our interest but only to apply to our own boats. Other nations’ boats can continue to fish in areas where our boats cannot. That must end.

Secondly, the right to fish is essentially provided by a grant of quota from government, and at no cost to fishermen. Therefore, I suggest, any value associated with quota must remain a public asset. We must look for ways to make it an asset from which local fishing communities as a whole can benefit. Equally, we need to find a way to be fair to fishermen who have paid for quota in good faith. If we need any knowledge of Tory thinking on that subject, we need look no further than Philip Booth of the Institute of Economic Affairs. He writes on the Conservative Home website:

“The solution is to establish property rights in sea fisheries”.

and goes on to suggest an international trade in these rights. That is absolutely opposed by our fishermen and runs entirely counter to broader community demands for local control—once again, it is an indication that the Tories wish to sell out the interests of our fishing communities. In doing so, the Tories are departing from former Tory MSP Jamie McGrigor’s position, with which I was able to agree in 2001.

As the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and others acknowledge, we need a new fisheries management system and—as in Iceland, the Faroes and Norway—our fishermen need to be inside the room while the local detail is determined.

Fundamentally, that means that control of fisheries in our waters cannot be left to Westminster, which took us into the CFP and has a track record of selling us out when negotiations on fishing take place. Fisheries must instead be controlled here, in this Parliament, but with significant local decision-making by local communities embedded in the process.

Of course, fishing is not about catching alone. The economically larger part, as well as larger by employment, is fish processing. Its interests require the free movement of people and unfettered access to the very large market that is the EU single market.

I was interested that Mr Tomkins appeared to suggest that Brexit means leaving the EU single market. I thought that the question on the ballot paper was about leaving the EU. It did not commit us to leaving the EU single market.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con): My view is that Brexit requires us to ask, what kind of access to the single market is now in the national interest?

Stewart Stevenson: The national interest is clearly expressed as access to all the rights and privileges of being able—without visas, paperwork or costs—to continue to sell into the market and to engage people from across the EU in our industries.

In my constituency, in the fish processing industry, it has proved impossible to rely solely on local labour. Factories in my constituency, even after local lay-offs, continue to have vacancies. Secondary schools in Fraserburgh and Peterhead illustrate the point, with a couple of dozen languages being spoken in each of them.

Leaving the single market could cut us off from all that. Merely having access could mean that all those barriers are likely to be created and we would damage the interests of Scotland and indeed the wider UK.

I will just say a word or two about what the Tories appear to want today. From the Government motion, they wish to delete

“agreed UK approach”,

meaning that they want Westminster to decide. They wish to delete the objective

“for Scotland ... to remain inside the EU Single Market”,

meaning that they want to damage our exports. They also wish to delete

“protects ... social protection”,

meaning that they want to remove safety nets for the vulnerable.

Finally, I understand that many of my constituents used June’s vote to get out of the CFP, albeit that the leave vote in my constituency was only 1,000 more than in East Aberdeenshire. Scotland now has important interests to look after. We should, for example, lead on fishing negotiations for the UK as a whole; we should not delegate decisions to Westminster—but I am not holding my breath.


06 September 2016

S5M-00654 Stand Up to Bullying Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00654, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, on the stand up to bullying campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament supports the Stand Up to Bullying campaign, which is run by the charity, Diana Award; recognises that anyone of any age can be affected by bullying and that there is a growing trend of cyberbullying toward young people; is concerned at figures in a recent poll by Vodafone that suggest that 68% of people know someone who has experience cyberbullying and a YouGov poll suggesting that 81% believe that bullying at school is commonplace, and commends the work of charities such as Diana Award in Coatbridge and Chryston and across Scotland in their attempts to stop bullying.

... ... ...

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

The subject is a serious one and, like many other members’ business debates, I expect that there will be no disagreement among members on the issue.

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on giving us the opportunity to debate such an important subject. The problem is not confined to Scotland or to these islands; it is an international problem. In the past month, UNICEF released figures that showed that two thirds of young people surveyed in more than 18 countries have been victims of bullying.

How do people come to be bullied? It is mostly because of issues over which they have no control, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or physical appearance. Even if it does not involve touching the victim, bullying is a form of violence and we should treat it as seriously as we treat any violence.

Bullying is also an attack on diversity. Diversity has huge value: the greater the diversity in our communities, the greater their strength and ability to respond to changing circumstances.

Bullying, particularly for youngsters, can endure well into adulthood and for the rest of their lives. It is not to be treated trivially or ignored. It can lead to depression, academic failure and changes in the behaviour of the people who are being bullied. Fear follows from bullying.

Mental health will, of course, be affected by being bullied. Furthermore, the behaviour will be copied. If bullying is tolerated, others will see that it goes unpunished and will themselves be open to potentially becoming bullies.

In the modern electronic world, we have some particular concerns about the new ways in which people can be bullied, such as via social media, emails, texting and so on. There are some particular things that are different about social media. First, adults do not understand social media in the same way as youngsters do. An adult’s moderating influence means that they might understand what is going on in a bully’s mind. However, the situation is likely to be less clear cut than with the physical bullying that we have been used to in the past.

Similarly, the use of social media tends to be a solitary activity. There will be no one sitting next to the person who is seeking to bully someone online—no moderating influence of someone looking over their shoulder and saying, “Hey Jimmy, that’s enough. Perhaps we should head off.”

It is also an activity that, being solitary, takes place—in many cases—late at night, when drink may have been taken. There are all sorts of disinhibitions associated with the bully that are distinctly different and more threatening in the online world.

Is there anything that we can do about it? Well, yes. Perhaps the social media providers could help by monitoring what is actually going on in social media. We know that the technology is there—Twitter, for example, has a regular banner showing what is trending. In other words, it knows what is going on. Perhaps it is time that Twitter and other social media providers took a look at whether they can help to detect and inhibit bullying through that medium.

I congratulate the stand up to bullying campaign on its actions. I hope that we, too, can be part of the effort to promote a kinder and more understanding society and that this debate makes its modest contribution to that. However, we all have a duty to stand up to oppressive behaviour, because that is what bullying is.


Stewart Stevenson
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