28 February 2017

S5M-03354 Endometriosis Awareness Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03354, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on the “It’s OK to talk. Period.” campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes that Endometriosis Awareness Week 2017 will run from 6 to 12 March and have the theme, It’s OK to Talk. Period.; recognises that the aim of the week is to draw attention to the impact of the condition on the lives of the 10% of women of reproductive age who are living with it, including what it understands is a significant number in both Cunninghame North and across Scotland; believes that it can be exceptionally difficult to diagnose, with the average time for diagnosis after the first symptoms are experienced being 7.5 years; acknowledges that this year’s theme was chosen to specifically encourage women and girls to seek medical help if they experience painful, heavy, difficult or irregular periods, as this can be a sign of the condition; appreciates that half of all women with it experience the first symptoms in their teenage years; is aware that it causes physical pain and can lead to infertility and depression; believes that, although endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition, there is not enough debate and awareness about it, and notes the view that urgent work is required to see what can be done to achieve both earlier diagnosis and better treatment options for the many women in Scotland and beyond with endometriosis.

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

I thank Kenneth Gibson for giving us the opportunity to discuss this topic. Endometriosis is heavily underdiscussed, especially considering the range of people it affects. I am a man in his 70s, and my generation of men did not much engage in or discuss anything to do with female reproduction. Indeed, it was only after my mother’s death that I discovered that a year before I was born she had an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in the loss of a fallopian tube.

Thus, the risks that she took in giving birth to me, my brother and my sister were substantial. That was just not the sort of thing that was discussed with men of my generation. Tonight’s debate is therefore an opportunity to engage men, as well as to reflect the needs of women.

Just this morning, I spoke with a young woman who has been diagnosed with the disease. She was eager to hear tonight’s discussion and grateful for Parliament’s steps in raising awareness and, we hope, furthering research to find a cure.

The idea that there is no cure for a disease that affects one in 10 women in the world is almost unbelievable in the modern age—especially when we think about the great medical advances that have been made in other areas. Yet, despite the fact that all those women live with the disease, the low number of people who have even heard of it—including myself, until the debate came up—is almost unbelievable.

Endometriosis’s impact is wider and more destructive than it looks at first glance. On the one hand, it comes with chronic pain and fatigue—and not just physical pain, as there are mental consequences, too. Fundamentally, I understand that the effect of endometriosis on one person can be quite significantly different from its effect on someone else. Some might experience a host of symptoms, while others are almost asymptomatic. Regardless of that, living with an incurable disease day in and day out is not something that any of us would wish to take lightly.

The strain of the condition does not affect just the individual who suffers from it. The friends and family of a woman who is diagnosed will also feel that strain, which the condition places on relationships and commitments in work and social lives when a woman is in too much pain to go out of the house or even to rise from bed. Frankly—and I say this with no pleasure whatsoever—those women are often keeping families going, keeping children at school and simultaneously undertaking careers.

There a number of support groups for women with the disease, where they can meet others who are suffering. Such groups are a useful outlet, I am sure. However, what would happen if we—and by “we” I mean the medical field, Governments and society as a whole—became a more proactive support group? We need to offer more.

The disease has been swept under the carpet and out of public conversation for too long. Talking about disease, especially one that is gender based, can sometimes be quite difficult, particularly for us men. I hope that mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and friends will take some comfort from the fact that at least some of the men in the Parliament are engaging with the conversation. I know women who have been diagnosed with endometriosis. I say to them that we are in their corner, cheering on the advancements that we hope will come

For many women, the fight is a silent one. However, during endometriosis awareness week in March, we all need to stand up and speak on the subject. In this area, as in so many others, we need strong women to lead us, direct us, put pressure on for new research, create new treatment options and, ultimately, find a cure.

We hope that this debate will raise awareness. Let us keep talking about the condition. I love talking, so that is easy for me; for others, it might be more difficult, but I encourage them to do so, even if that is not something that they would do naturally. Our goal should be to find the day when no woman has to fight against her own body.


23 February 2017

S5M-02310 Oil and Gas Sector Co-investment

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02310, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on co-investment in the United Kingdom oil and gas sector. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,
That the Parliament understands that the number of jobs lost as a result of the downturn in the UK oil and gas sector could be over 120,000 by the end of 2016; considers that the sector is of vital economic interest and cannot be left exclusively to market forces; further considers that the sector needs to have confidence that it can invest for the future; supports the use of Scottish and UK Government borrowing powers to leverage money into the sector, including active consideration of strategic public stakes in infrastructure investment, and notes calls on the Scottish Government to facilitate and take part in discussions with the UK Government, industry and trade unions to create a plan for co-investment that will support jobs, including in the north east, increase confidence and create returns to the public sector.

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

I join others in thanking Lewis Macdonald for the opportunity to discuss this important topic. My constituency has the world’s largest offshore oil support base and includes St Fergus gas terminal, so the issues are significant to it. Unemployment there, which has historically been low, has risen significantly because of the downturn in the industry. We are still in a much better place than much of Scotland is, but we should not discount the fact that the people who have lost their jobs are often higher earners, so there is a disproportionate effect on the economy as a whole. I have no difficulty in subscribing to all the words that Lewis Macdonald incorporated in his motion.

The prices of oil and gas are not determined simply by economic factors; they are also determined by macro political factors on the world stage. We know that the price of oil was driven down because of choices that were made in other countries to up production. Some sanity has returned to the market, which has made a small contribution.

The industry grew from very small beginnings, and a national concern originally played an important part: some of us remember Britoil, and we remember who sold it off to BP many decades ago. There is of course a role for the state in supporting the broader energy sector, of which oil and gas is the major part in the north-east.

In my constituency, we are feeling a bit put out—I put it no more strongly than that. That is because we have lost many of the opportunities of diversification, having built up a huge body of people with skills that can be applied in other sectors of the energy industry—in particular, in offshore energy, which over time will become more and more important, and carbon capture and storage, at Peterhead and at the north of England plant that was also in the CCS commercialisation competition. It is important that the state plays a role in ensuring that we can continue to exploit the skills and knowledge of the people who have been working in our oil and gas industry.

In the short term, it is very welcome that the University of Aberdeen has identified formations that have not previously been exploited, around Rockall, for example. People in the oil and gas industry have a saying: “How do you strike oil? Drill lots of dry wells.” Around Rockall, there has not been enough activity, because our previous understanding of the geology did not sustain it. The change in that regard might assist the industry more broadly.

In the sectors that are mature, as the price of oil creeps upwards again, increasing efficiency and exploitation of existing infrastructure create significant opportunities for us to have a profitable and long-term sustainable industry. There is a 40 or 50-year future for our North Sea oil industry, and youngsters should be encouraged to acquire the engineering skills that they will need if they are to go into the industry.

We must also consider the broader issue of energy security. There is an intrinsic value in having energy that we in the UK and Scotland can control, because that detaches us, to some extent, from the vagaries of international decisions and international energy markets.

There is room for a variety of ways forward. There will be heavy reliance on the private sector, but there is also a role for the Scottish and UK Governments, which I hope they will discharge with diligence and appropriate decision making.


07 February 2017

S5M-03858 Withdrawal from the European Union (Article 50)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-03858, in the name of Michael Russell, on article 50.

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

It is always interesting to listen to what Opposition parties have to say, and many ironies emerge. One of the ironies is that by far the strongest supporters of the United Kingdom, as shown in the EU referendum, are the people of Gibraltar, 95.9 per cent of whom voted to remain in the EU. It is not simply a matter of the United Kingdom discriminating against Scotland and refusing to engage and listen. The UK Government is being absolutely fair—it is against everything that anybody says that is different from its own settled ideas. The Gibraltarians, who are the most loyal of UK citizens and the most committed to remaining in the EU, are being ignored. I hold no brief for the Gibraltarians. I have met ministers from there and it is always interesting to do so.

Adam Tomkins said that we want the fullest possible participation in European markets; indeed, that is what the UK Government white paper says. It uses the phrase “mutually beneficial” with reference to the customs union on a dozen occasions, so we know that the UK Government is committed to achieving that. How can we achieve that? The strongest and most certain way of achieving a mutually beneficial European market is by being in the single market.

Douglas Ross took us back to the referendum of 2014 and told us that it was on a simple question: should Scotland be an independent country—yes or no? In other words, it told us nothing whatever about Scotland’s attitude to the EU in 2014. That is the assertion that I have heard from him.

What, in turn, was the question that was asked in 2016? It was: should the UK be in the European Union—yes or no? It told us nothing whatever about our attitude to the single market. It told us nothing whatever about our attitude to the free movement of peoples. It answered one simple question, and we have that confirmed by Douglas Ross. It is perfectly permissible to stay in the single market, the EEA and EFTA and still be consistent with the result that was delivered on 23 June 2016. That is the argument that is being put by SNP members today.

Adam Tomkins is, of course, a young and inexperienced politician, certainly in comparison with me, on both counts. He has either forgotten or never been aware of the considerable number of occasions on which the UK Parliament, and particularly the House of Lords, has amended legislation to affect Scottish competences in legislative and administrative matters without our having had the opportunity to bring forward a legislative consent motion. I think that he suggested that that is unconstitutional, but maybe not. It is certainly not a position that I can support.

I intervened on Ross Greer to ask whether what the UK Government has published is a white paper. There are only four lines in the UK Parliament’s description of white papers and it is clear that white papers come before bills. What do we have? We have a white paper that purports to have 77 pages, but six of them are blank and four are just the introduction, so the white paper is actually just 67 pages.

The Scottish Government published 650 pages when going into the 2014 referendum. What other things have we got? The “Travel Choices for Scotland” white paper from the UK Government had 114 pages. A paper on prosperous communities through local government had 247 pages, and there were 128 pages on educational excellence. We can see that the UK Government’s Brexit white paper is a shoddy and inadequate piece of work. In fact, it is no white paper whatever—it is a white flag that is giving in to people elsewhere. It will give us nothing for Scotland and it will sell out our fishing communities again. That is the Tory plan—that is what the Tories are going to do.


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