31 January 2017

S5M-03748 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03748, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on celebrating our past: Scotland’s year of history, heritage and archaeology.

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

Presiding Officer, I stand before you a self-confessed geek. My geekiness comes from my hobby of genealogy, which is an interest that I took up some 50 years ago. I recently completed an online post-graduate certificate in genealogical, palaeographic and heraldic studies from the University of Strathclyde—I commend the university’s courses to anyone with an interest in the subject.

In Scotland, we have world-leading access to our family history information, which, for tens of millions of people around the world who have a familial connection to Scotland, is their “I know yous”. Many people who research their own family history from a distance end up coming to Scotland. When I visit the ScotlandsPeople centre at 2 Princes Street, I regularly hear the helpful and informed staff taking people from across the world through how to find their family history records for their ancestors. There are gentle whoops of joy as granny MacGregor is finally found.

Like probably most families, my family is full of migration. Besides my great-great grandfather Archibald Stewart who, in 1853, left Scotland for Canada at the age of 64 after being widowed, I have identified 13 sets of my relatives of his generation and their descendants who migrated to Canada, the USA, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. In my wife’s family, I have identified 12 migration events over the same period, and the migration continues to this day with our having nephews and nieces who are long-term residents of Sweden, Denmark and Australia. I have a more distant connection in the brother of the five-greats grandfather of my nephew’s fiancée, who was convicted of stealing a coat in 1830 and travelled at the Government’s expense to Australia. For George Adam’s benefit, I should also say that I have a family member who emigrated as far as Paisley.

All of us are likely to have relatives out there who are interested in what we do in Scotland and who retain an active interest in their own history here. The huge Scottish diaspora are part of us and we are part of them. For us, this year is an opportunity to raise their interest and attachment to their mother country to another level. The refresh of the ScotlandsPeople website has given even better access to a wide range of family history data—new data has just been added—and is a key factor in drawing in our international cousins. When they visit the historic building lurking behind the Duke of Wellington’s statue, they get the expert advice that they are looking for and, for many people who come to Scotland, it can be the highlight of their visit.

However, it is not just the people who are employed professionally who matter. There are family history societies right across Scotland, and volunteers regularly go out to record the inscriptions from gravestones and publish the results. About 18 months ago, I bought the book of inscriptions of the new Calton cemetery—which is about 400m behind the Presiding Officer—from the Scottish Genealogy Society, and that helped me to track down three particular family members. The Fife Family History Society’s book of criminals helped me to solve another problem—in someone else’s family tree, of course, not my own. In Aberdeen, we have the massive resources of the Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society, which has well over 10,000 members from right across the world. In my constituency, the Family History Society of Buchan does likewise for local data.

To know our own family history is to better understand ourselves. To be personal, I have more politicians in my family than I ever thought that I would have. A third cousin, the Canadian senator Keith Laird, was a legal partner of Paul Martin senior, who was the father of a Canadian Prime Minister. A cousin four times removed, Alexander Berry, was an MP in New South Wales. He became wealthy 150 years ago by employing convicts, and subsequently endowed a chair at the University of St Andrews that continues to this day. Lord James Stevenson, my father’s first cousin, chaired the empire exhibition committee in the 1920s and was responsible for the building of the first Wembley stadium.

My great-uncle Alex Stevenson, lord provost in this city, ensured that the statues to Robert the Bruce and William Wallace were installed on either side of the entrance to Edinburgh castle in 1929.

The attraction of genealogy, which the cabinet secretary referred to, is one of the branches of history and one that is intensely personal. It is also one in which someone will never finish their research. That means that there is the opportunity for people to make lots of repeat visits.

Of course, when one discovers something that took place 200 years ago that today would be bad news, it is merely interesting. In a parish record of a child’s birth, I once saw the phrase “conceived in ante-nuptual fornication”. If that had been my parent, that might have been one thing but, as a description of something that took place 200 years ago, it is fascinating, because it is redolent of another age.

I must go back to the National Records of Scotland to read the 200 pages of court papers and the 17 precognitions and so on that relate to the case of the young man who stole a coat from a Leith Walk house in August 1830 and got a free trip to Australia for his pains.


25 January 2017

S5M-03351 Celebrating Burns and the Scots Language

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): Happy Burns day, everyone. I am pleased to say that the next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03351, in the name of Emma Harper, on celebrating Burns and the Scots language. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, which is held on 25 January each year to mark the Bard’s birthday; considers that Burns was one of the greatest poets and that his work has influenced thinkers across the world; notes that Burns’ first published collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, also known as the “Kilmarnock Edition”, published in 1786, did much to popularise and champion the Scots language, and considers that this is one of his most important legacies; believes that the celebration of Burns Night is an opportunity to raise awareness of the cultural significance of Scots and its status as one of the indigenous languages of Scotland, and further believes in the importance of the writing down of the Scots language to ensure its continuation through written documentation, as well as oral tradition.

The member has provided the following translation in Scots:

That the Pairlament walcomes the annual celebration o Scotland’s national makar, Robert Burns, whilk is haudit oan January 25th ilka year tae mark the Bard’s birthday; conseeders that Burns waes ane o the greatest makars, an that his wark haes influenced thinkers the warld o’er; notes that Burns’ first setten furth collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, kent tae as the “Kilmarnock Edition”, setten furth in 1786, did muckle tae mak better kent an tae forder the Scots leid, an conseeders that this bides amang his maist important legacies; believes that the celebration o Burns Nicht is an opportunity tae heize fowk’s kennin o the cultural significance o Scots an its status as ane o the indigenous leids o Scotland, an believes forby in the importance o the scrievin doon o the Scots leid fur tae mak siccar its bidin throu scrievit documentation, as weel as oral tradeetion.

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

I thank Emma Harper for the opportunity to talk about Burns. I have used the opportunity to extend the world of people who are familiar with Burns to one more person—my new American intern, Melia Dayley, who is sitting in the gallery and who has written the speech that I give tonight.

I stand with members today to celebrate the enduring legacy of Robert Burns and, of course, the Scots language. I believe that it is central that we understand what is meant by the word “legacy”. It implies something of great significance in the past that continues to affect our present. It is a history that is ever present and impactful. That is a perfect description of Scots and the bard.

The Scots language has had a turbulent history. It went through periods of discrimination, when it was not to be spoken in good company, to times when it was championed by the Scots people. We have championed the language, in large part, thanks to Robert Burns, whose memory we celebrate today. It is a language that has divided society during parts of its history, but that is partly why it makes such an impact today—it shows us the diversity of our history. It is now a jewel of our culture, whereas once it was something very different.

We remember the man who wrote great literary works in Scots and who helped secure the Scots language’s importance to the definition of Scotland. Burns was, without doubt, a literary genius—one need read very few of his works to see that. Of course, he was also a man with an entirely justifiable reputation for womanising, but we rarely talk about one particular woman in his life—his wife, Jean Armour. She was the silent, strong supporter of the poet. I suspect that being a poet’s wife under any circumstances, then or now, is not terribly easy. She was a loyal wife and not one for coming forward, but she was always there and was the woman Burns needed and loved. While he was arranging Scots into iconic poems, she was looking after the basics of his life. She was working to make life better not just for her but for her significant family—although I am not sure what role she played with the family members who were not hers. Her legacy is alive in Scotland, right alongside that of Burns, so we should think of her as we think of Burns.

We work diligently and proudly to celebrate Robert Burns’s life. I am not here to preach on the issue—I perhaps came to Burns quite late in my life—but people right across Scotland understand who Burns is and what he has contributed to Scottish life. People on farms, on ships and in cities all know of Burns and they are all part of the community that has inherited the legacy of Burns. The language and words of Burns live today, as they lived when he wrote them. They strengthen the ties that bind us together. We overcome and rise above difficulties by looking at some of the things that he wrote, and we find simple enjoyment in his words. When we hear “Holy Willie’s Prayer” or “Tam o’ Shanter”, the narrative simply engages us.

The work of Burns is part of what makes us Scots, but it is also part of what we contribute to the world community. As Burns said of Jean,

“But to see her was to love her”.

The legacy of Burns and Scots is that we recognise that his words are more than simply words—their legacy is us.


24 January 2017

S5M-03573 Forestry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03573, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on developing forestry in Scotland.

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

I will make some observations for what I think is likely to be a consensual debate—we are all travelling in the same direction on forestry, which is good.

Forestry, of course, has always provided a strategic product. For example, in 1511, the Great Michael was launched—the biggest capital ship in the world, at 1,000 tonnes in weight and 73m in length. The wood for the Great Michael required every tree in Fife to be cleared and timber to be imported from the Baltic and France. In that sense, timber played an important part in the 16th century in national life, and following the building of the Great Michael, a huge tree replanting programme was required.

The Forestry Commission was founded by the Forestry Act 1919 in the aftermath of the first world war, when France had 40,000km of trenches that were largely lined with timber. The percentage of the UK that was covered by forests had dropped to about 4 per cent coverage by 1919. Timber is not simply an amenity in terms of forests or something that feeds industry; it is a matter of strategic interest.

In a debate in the House of Commons in 1919, a Labour member, William Thorne, addressing the issue of where the land would be found to plant trees—it was an issue then, as it is now—simply said:

“Pinch it—take it over!”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 9 December 1919; Vol 122, c 1144]

I think that we have become a little more sophisticated in our approach to that issue since then. Nonetheless, where the land is to come from for planting trees is a substantial issue. I agree with Peter Chapman that we need to find ways of showing farmers that there is an intrinsic value for them and their businesses in making some of their land available for forestry.

I have some interest in using forests for shelter, and I think that farmers will find that it is useful for that purpose in some circumstances. I say that because where we live we are surrounded by trees on three sides and would be pretty open to the elements if that was not the case. The trees are also an amenity for us because in the forest that surrounds us we have foxes, roe deer, badgers, weasels, barn owls, buzzards, woodpeckers and a raft of other creatures. That situation is true of forests across Scotland and the UK.

Forests are a national asset and have things that are of interest to everyone. They draw the attention of not simply the industrial interests of bodies such as the Confederation of Forest Industries but of everyone who can benefit emotionally, practically and economically from forests. For those who, like me, enjoy walking, forests are among the most attractive places to go walking, provided that there are forest trails. The bit of forest around where I live is an example of the errors that have been made in the past, because the forest paths are all but overgrown and the forest has never been thinned. I think that the person who planted it—by the way, I am not sure who that was, which addresses Mr Wightman’s point—basically took the money and ran. It will probably cost more to take that forest down than the economic benefit that it would be likely to realise.

The management of forests is very important indeed, which is why I very much welcome Jim Mackinnon’s report on forestry, which is well informed and well researched. Jim Mackinnon is an excellent fellow, with only one major defect to his name: he is a supporter of Forres Mechanics Football Club—how sad is that?

Fergus Ewing: Is the member sure?

Stewart Stevenson: I am pretty sure that he supports Forres Mechanics. I apologise to Jim Mackinnon if I am wrong about that, but I am pretty sure that I am correct.

In Scotland, we have beautiful land and opportunities for planting more forests. Rhoda Grant was correct to say that we must plant them where we can harvest them. I would have liked to intervene on the one point that she missed, which was that in some places there is the opportunity for the marine removal of forests. I saw an effective scheme in that regard when I visited Raasay to open a new pier there when I was a minister. I think that that was the last time that I met Charles Kennedy. We had an excellent chat, as we always did when whenever we met.

The number of jobs in forestry is already substantial, but it can increase, because the number of uses to which we put forest products is increasing. They are now part of biomass and more of our houses are timber framed, so it is important that we have access to a ready supply of forestry goods.

Forestry also helps in relation to climate change, particularly where there are new plantings, because young trees are particularly well-adapted to absorbing CO2, whereas older, established forests that are left to moulder, perhaps like the one that surrounds our house, are less adept at absorbing CO2. We therefore have to make sure that we replant after we grant permission for forests to come down.

I welcomed last week the assent from members on the Tory benches—from Mr Chapman—to our share of the support for agriculture and forestry remaining the same after 2020. I want that to be delivered, because it is important for the forestry industry, as it is for rural Scotland as a whole.


19 January 2017

S5M-03463 Rural Development (Funding)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03463, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the future of funding for rural development.

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

I draw members’ attention to my registered extremely large 3-acre agricultural holding, from which I receive no income whatsoever.

I am an MSP for an intensely rural area, which is dependent on farming and fishing, albeit that we have other industries, too.

I start on a consensual note. I very much welcomed Peter Chapman’s response to my intervention that we would be guaranteed a minimum of 16.4 per cent of the agricultural support that the UK gets. However, I will give a little bit of context to that. We might consider it in the light of a tweet from George Eustice on 4 January saying that there will be

“No more ‘subsidies’ post 2020 for farmers”

Mike Rumbles: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson
: One moment, please. I am not much encouraged by getting 16.4 per cent of nothing, and I do not think that that is quite what Peter Chapman—and certainly I—had in mind. Of course, George Eustice also said on 26 May, before the referendum, that we would have as much support or, perhaps, even more once the referendum is out of the way. I accept that we are where we are.

I will take the Tory spokesman first.

Peter Chapman: Stewart Stevenson says that there will be no support. I do not accept that in any way, shape or form. I have had meetings with Andrea Leadsom and George Eustice, neither of whom said anything of the sort that there would be no support after 2020.

Stewart Stevenson
: I know that my opposite number on the Tory benches is an honest and straightforward man and I am pleased to hear him say that, but I can only repeat what George Eustice tweeted on 4 January. I accept that putting something in 140 characters can sometimes eliminate meaning, but the words that he used were:

“No more ‘subsidies’ post 2020”.

In a spirit of collaboration, I invite Peter Chapman to communicate further with his political colleagues and establish whether the meaning has been eliminated by the words that were used.

We have all been quoting from various sources—that is what we politicians inevitably do—and the NFUS has properly been quoted as an important player in the policy area. In her blog following the Prime Minister’s speech, Clare Slipper said:

“NFU Scotland wants barrier and tariff-free trade as well as the freedom to set our own appropriate rules for farming.”

I do not find it terribly difficult to agree with the objectives that the Prime Minister set out in her speech, by the way, because they are probably the objectives that we would all think are proper in the current circumstance. The difficulty lies in the confidence that we may or may not have in our ability to achieve agreement with 27 other countries on the delivery of something that supports those objectives. In my six minutes—it is rather less than that now—I do not have time to explore what that means, but we must have better relationships in Europe and I genuinely hope that the UK Government draws on all the devolved ministers who have an interest in the matter to be part of a collegiate team who individually go and engage with different countries throughout Europe.

As a minister, I attended more than 20 EU councils of one sort or another. In that environment, I used to have responsibility for particular countries as a UK representative. That is a good model going forward and it happened under the Labour Government and the Conservative Government. Therefore, I know that it can work and it needs to work again if we are to get the kind of result that we want.

Fundamentally for Scotland, the money that comes from the EU is significant. It is significant for farming, of course, but the LEADER programme has been an enormous help to people in my constituency. It recently gave £64,000 to Macduff scout group, £4,000 to the North East Scotland Preservation Trust for work in Portsoy, £9,500 to the Portsoy Players and £90,000 to Scottish Enterprise for a development project in the Banff area. I am sure that other members will make references to their local circumstances. It is important that we are able to continue to support our rural areas, because it is not simply a matter of rurality. The quality of life in rural areas is important to attracting professional support that will often work in urban areas. Therefore, there is a benefit to supporting rural areas that is translated into a benefit in urban areas as well.

It is not clear to us that the Prime Minister has the same priorities for the rural economy as we are expressing across the political divide in the chamber. When she talked about the disbenefits of not achieving a result between the UK and the 27 EU countries, she was talking about the disadvantages for the EU members. However, there are of course substantial disadvantages for the UK and, in particular, Scotland. I wish her well, but I have relatively limited optimism.

Wales is doing well. The Welsh are on the same page as we are. I hope that we will all be able to support the motion as amended by Labour and the Liberals. I hope that the Tories will do that too.


17 January 2017

S5M-02438 Fishing

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02438, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on the sea of opportunity campaign.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s (SFF) A Sea of Opportunity campaign; considers that full control over fishing in the offshore economic zone represents an opportunity to reinvigorate coastal communities; recognises that appropriate conservation measures must also be in place for all fishing activity; welcomes indications that arrangements for ownership and exploitation of existing quota will not be changed to adversely affect existing investments in them; believes that the ownership structures and economic benefits derived from new quota arising from full control of the offshore economic zone must be of value to adjacent communities, and notes calls on all political parties to consider whether they can agree with the SFF that UK fishing interests can best be protected in upcoming negotiations by the lead minister being from Scotland.


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

I am pleased to bring to Parliament the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s sea of opportunity campaign, and I would like to recognise Bertie Armstrong, who is the chief executive of the SFF, and Mike Park, of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who are in the public gallery.

Since the outset, the European Union common fisheries policy has been opposed by our fishermen, my political colleagues in the Scottish National Party and others in other political parties. Indeed, my first speech here in Parliament in 2001 was on the CFP. In theory, the CFP protects the long-term interests of those who fish, those who eat fish, local economies that are dependent on fish and the environment on which our fish depend.

In practice, however, its effects have been very different. First, when the United Kingdom signed up to the CFP, it signed away rights to fish in our own waters. Today, the majority of the fish that are caught there are caught by fishing vessels from other jurisdictions, and the majority of our fish are landed elsewhere.

Secondly, although those who eat fish can generally buy the fish that they want, the majority of it is imported. That is a very strange situation when our waters are the most productive in Europe.

Thirdly, the economic benefit to our communities has been much less than it should have been. In England, major fishing ports are all but gone and the fishing rights that remain are largely in foreign hands. Although Scotland has fared somewhat less badly, it has been in Norway and the Faroes that we have seen much of the onshore growth in recent years.

Finally, the chaotic fishing councils each year—I have attended a couple—have not involved fishermen to any meaningful degree. They are the people with real knowledge, yet they are not involved in the dynamic decision-making process, which has often left everyone scratching their heads to justify the outcomes.

The SFF’s a sea of opportunity campaign lays out the opportunities that are available to our catching sector as we look to leave the common fisheries policy. For our processing sector, there are both opportunities and risks. Last week’s report of increased losses at Shetland Catch, largely due to the closure of the Russian market, shows the dangers of any restriction of access to markets. Even the worst-case scenario should leave us able to sell into the EU, but on what terms? We have yet to discover that.

However, for our catchers, our gaining control of our waters should be a win-win-win and an opportunity to do things very differently. We have to protect the investments that our fishermen have made in quota under the existing system, but when new quota becomes available, we must look at how to manage that in a way that shares the benefit between the catchers and the communities that, by their proximity to the relevant waters, have a proper interest in it. That will require hard thinking and collaborative working. I do not have the answers; we all have yet to find what might work.

On the day when we leave the CFP, we need to have a new management regime in place. It might be reasonable to make changes over time, as disruption at one point is in no one’s interests. We need to have agreements in place with other states, but this time we need to make sure that we make the decisions and keep control of how fishing is undertaken in our waters. A key part of that is to ensure that the management regime protects stocks for future generations of fishermen and fishing-dependent communities. I am frequently told of the difficulties that sons of fishermen have in becoming established in the business. With increased control, we have an opportunity to control differently and differentially the access to quota without which no new skipper can reasonably fish.

Fishermen are independent individuals who often refuse to share their catching data even with members of their own family. They compete with each other as well as with the elements, management regimes, the hunted fish and—until now—the CFP, so it is a substantial achievement on the part of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation to have reached an agreed position that reflects the opportunities and risks that are presented by our leaving the CFP. It is working with our Government and the UK Government in a more effective way than for many years, and it is ensuring that we as parliamentarians are informed.

However, delivery of the prospective control of our waters in a way that suits our interests is not a given. In the 1970s, our rights were traded away to achieve the wider agreement to enter the then European Economic Community. We knew nothing of that deal until it was done and it was too late. That danger exists this time as well, not because of malice on the part of the UK Government but because of expediency, the need to reach a deal and the comparatively small economic contribution of fishing compared with, say, Nissan in Sunderland, which seems to be positioned for special treatment. The UK also faces a significant resource bottleneck that means that allocating civil service expertise to getting the best outcome for fishing might not be top of the priorities.

My motion asks that political parties “consider”—I am not seeking their commitment to support the idea, yet—whether the UK’s and, in particular, Scotland’s fishing interests might not be best served by a Scottish minister leading for the UK in the forthcoming negotiations.

Today’s speech by the UK Prime Minister delineated potential difficulties for Spanish fishermen through loss of market access to the UK while saying nothing whatever about the position of Scottish and English fishermen. That illustrates a worrying disengagement from the real-life issues that affect our fishing industry and gives an astonishing insight into how little our industry is on her radar.

We need to avoid our prospective rights being traded away as they were 40 years ago. Having our minister at the table would be our insurance. It would not be a free ticket, because they would have to negotiate for the agreed position of the whole of the UK and not solely for Scottish interests.

I again congratulate the SFF, wish it well and trust that we in the Parliament can all support its efforts. Locally in Banffshire and Buchan Coast, which—with Shetland—is the heart of our fishing industry, I recognise that all the candidates who stood in this year’s election voted remain in the referendum in June but I now expect, as fishermen do, that all of us will work for the best possible result from our leaving the CFP. Fishing has been central to the history of many Scottish communities, and it must be central to the future of those communities too.


11 January 2017

S5M-03303 Global Citizenship: Scotland’s International Development Strategy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03303, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on welcoming “Global Citizenship: Scotland’s International Development Strategy”.

I call Alasdair Allan, Minister for International Development and Europe, to speak to and move the motion.

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

This debate is founded on principle. Page 17 of the document to which we are speaking today captures some of that principle when it says:

“Our approach to international development is one of working in ‘partnerships of equals’ with others, both within Scotland and with our partner countries.”

That relates to a very important point. This is not about what we do to people: it is about what we do along with them, because if the people with whom we work are not with us, we will achieve nothing that is of long-term benefit.

Ross Thomson referred to the United Nations. With regard to the underpinnings of the issue that we are discussing, Ban Ki-moon said:

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth—these are one and the same fight.”

Of course, at the moment, our eyes will be on what might happen in the United States, which is currently one of the biggest contributors in international development—although we might doubt its future commitment in that regard. In his inaugural address in 1961, John F Kennedy said:

“To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves”.

I wonder whether we will hear that message in the next few days from the United States. Perhaps Theodore Roosevelt, in a speech in Washington in 1906, got to the heart of where the United States is currently, when he said:

“The liar is no whit better than the thief ... An epidemic of indiscriminate assault upon character does not good, but very great harm.”

Let us hope that the events of the election in the United States can be put behind us and that the Republicans can return to the spirit of their founder, Abraham Lincoln, who, at Gettysburg, said that

“all men are created equal.”

Of course, he meant women, as well. Times have changed.

The faiths that underpin the moral codes of communities across the world also speak to the subject. Isaiah 58:6 says:

“to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke”.

That message is pervasive in the thinking of the human race.

As others have done, I will quote Jack McConnell. I have great regard for Jack McConnell on account of two things that he did during his time in office. First, his work on smoking, and, secondly, his statement that

“If we are not part of the solution in Africa ... We exacerbate the problem.”—[Official Report, 1 June 2005; c 17383.]

He was absolutely correct, in that regard.

It is worth saying that the past year has been a tough one for international relations. We have seen intolerance almost normalised in many parts of the world, and perhaps the hope that we might look to a better future for all the peoples of the world has all but vanished. In “The Once and Future King”, T H White ends his story of hope at the point of Arthur’s death. Before the king passes, he imparts a vision to a young boy; the final words are “the beginning”. Let us hope that after what has happened in the past year in particular, we are, in the face of defeat, actually looking at a new beginning.

In doing that, we can work with our partners and share a vision. In a world that is riven by intolerance and disregard, it is more important than ever that we build bridges with those with whom we can work, to improve their conditions and give our young people—it is often young people—the opportunity to learn from those who are less well off than they are that there are different ways of addressing the world’s problems. I quoted Ban Ki-moon; what he said is an excellent place to start, and we must tackle each part of his vision with our partners.

Tackling climate change is part of that vision. I have talked before about climate change and climate justice. Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, now runs a foundation that addresses the issue. It works largely with women, including many women in Africa. We have heard about children who go out to collect muddy water for their families before going to school, and we know that as climate change aridifies areas where people live, women have to travel further and further to get wood for their fires. We, who benefit here from our industrial past, are part of the reason why such burdens are being placed on people in less-developed countries. That is why it is important that we stick to the knitting in terms of climate change, while working with the individuals who are most affected by it and whose problems in that respect we have largely created.

Work to end global poverty reinforces our commitment to defeating poverty in our own country and shows that our actions are not limited and selective. No human being, anywhere, should suffer the pain of poverty.

The diversity of peoples and approaches strengthens the outcomes that we are likely to get. Diversity is of intrinsic value. In the past I have quoted the first law of epigenetics, which is that the more highly optimised an organism is for one environment, the more adversely affected it is by a change in that environment. That gives us the scientific underpinning for why diversity means more resilient societies and ecosystems.

International development is an opportunity to create a certain unity of purpose across national boundaries. The greatest problems of our time will be defeated not by the actions of a single nation, but by the collaboration of all nations. Partnerships give us collective power. The Scottish Government’s strategy document is an encouraging part of the development of a global response. We are but a small part of that, but let us hope that we are an exemplar that encourages others to greater efforts in the future.


10 January 2017

S5M-03297 Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Union)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03297, in the name of Angela Constance, on Scotland’s place in the European Union—protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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

Presiding Officer,

“The Movement for European Unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission. In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law.”

That was Winston Churchill to the congress of Europe in 1948. In 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said:

“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.”

The issue of human rights is hardly a new one. It would be selfish and wrong of us to turn our backs on the hard-won expression of shared values and duties that Governments owe to those in whose interests they serve.

It would be selfish and wrong to turn our backs on international treaties. We would certainly undermine their value and applicability and the respect that they have by resiling from signing them. We would be talking about rights without law, law without enforceability and enforcement without rights.

This important debate, which is on leaving the European Union, is about our rights. It is one that we can have in this Parliament but which people seem reluctant to have in the Parliament further south, which also purports to represent us.

Let us consider a little of the history of how we got to where we are. Like a couple of other members who are in the chamber, I was born and brought up in the immediate aftermath of the second world war. None of us is old enough to have had any direct experience or real memory of it, but we were certainly close to its effects. We did not smell the putrefaction of human corpses across Europe, and we did not hear the booming of the guns or the crashing of explosions. We were lucky to be born after that war into a world that was determined to step away from the economic and social chaos that authoritarian regimes brought us—in particular, the desolation that came from the Holocaust.

I am old enough to remember watching “The Brains Trust”, which was shown on Sundays, and seeing Jacob Bronowski, who was a Jew who had escaped from the horrors of the Holocaust and had come to the UK to seek refuge. The UK has a long and honourable tradition of providing refuge to people from around the world, which the present Tory Government appears to want to put under threat.

Jacob Bronowski, whom I have referred to in a previous debate, made the most moving piece of television in his series “The Ascent of Man”. In one episode, while standing in a concentration camp in Poland, he leans forward to pick up some mud from a puddle, looks at the mud in his hand and, slowly turning to the camera, he says, “These are my relatives.” His relatives all died in the concentration camps.

If we wonder why human rights matter to us, we need only think of what the denial of human rights in Nazi Germany and the attrition against an entire community caused for those people and for all of us. Hundreds of innocent, terrified people were herded into the gas chambers. Today, we can barely imagine that such a thing could happen. However, if, as Gordon Lindhurst would have us do, we reduce “Human Rights” to “human rights”, we are taking a dangerous first step, albeit that I accept that it is on a long road, in a relatively democratic country—the UK is not fully democratic, because the majority of our legislators are not elected. As Edmund Burke said,

“Laws, like houses, lean on one another.”

If we take away a critical part of the structure, we threaten the whole structure.

Gordon Lindhurst: Does Stewart Stevenson accept the historical fact that the atrocities to which he refers, which took place in the concentration camps and so forth, happened under the auspices of a Government that was elected under a constitutional framework that included the Weimar constitution, which was set out to guarantee rights and freedoms? That is therefore not the issue at debate.

Stewart Stevenson
: On the contrary, I suspect that Gordon Lindhurst has inadvertently just made my point for me. Democracies and structures are not good enough; as Edmund Burke said in the 18th century,

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

We are the good men and women who will not stand by to see our human rights, which are encapsulated in the laws of this country, deconstructed by the mindless Visigoths who reside on the Tory benches. I have my history as an autodidact as an excuse for my ignorance; I do not know what excuse the Tories have for theirs.


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