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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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