29 March 2017

S5M-03750 Rotary Clubs (Champions of Change Awards)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03750, in the name of John Lamont, on congratulations to Rotary district 1020 and other champions of change winners. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament praises the excellent work of Rotary clubs across Scotland in delivering projects to improve their local area and beyond, as well as providing friendship and support for their members; congratulates Rotary District 1020 on being awarded two out of 12 Rotary Champions of Change awards in 2016 for humanitarian service; understands that Grant Stephen of the Rotary Club of Duns was commended for setting up and running the Dementia Café in Duns and Robin Hamilton of the Rotary Club of Dunbar received an award for his project in India providing sanitation at schools in the Kalimpong district; notes that the 2017 Champions of Change awards ceremony will be taking place in April and will once again recognise unsung heroes in domestic and international categories; further notes that the Rotary Club of Galashiels has recently delivered 15 analogue breast screening lorries to India, in partnership with Indian Rotaries and led by local Rotarians, Patricia Paterson and Peter Croan; believes that the fantastic work of groups such as District 1020 and other Rotarians across Scotland makes a huge difference to local communities across Scotland and worldwide, and congratulates Rotary International, which is celebrating its 112th anniversary in 2017.

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

I note the requirement for four minutes, Presiding Officer. I will use some of that to congratulate John Lamont on bringing the topic for debate to Parliament. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about Rotary clubs.

I welcome the times when we as a Parliament look to the actions of hard-working Scottish citizens and citizens across the world. In particular tonight, we reflect on the people in our nation’s Rotary clubs. The motto of Rotary International is “Service above self”. If we have heard anything from the speeches so far, it is that their work exemplifies that motto.

The awards that we acknowledge tonight are a small enough gesture when compared with all the hours of compassionate service that club members give. I cannot help wondering what the world would look like if we did not have Rotary or, on the other hand, if more people followed its example. We might have had to invent Rotary if it had not been invented 112 years ago.

Rotary has been part of my life for a very long time, although not district 1020. I was brought up in Cupar in Fife, and my father was the president of the Rotary club there from 1956 to 1957. I first spoke to the Rotary club there, I believe, in 1962, at a sons and daughters evening that the club had organised, at which I was responsible for the vote of thanks to the members. I also spoke to the club in 1974 about my career, which was computers. When I revisit that speech, I see that it was a sorry tale of computer failures and difficulties—it is on my website, if members wish to look at it, under the comments section. It will take them into distant history.

The Rotary club movement, then as now, seeks to educate and to support the efforts of others. It inspires and empowers people across the globe. Tonight we focus particularly on Rotary’s four-way test, which is part of the guiding principles for a club. It is an ethical guide to behaviour, and one that we can all learn from. It reads:

“Of the things we think, say or do:

1. Is it the TRUTH?

2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?


4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”

I can certainly say, for my part, that friendship was a key part of what my father got out of being in Rotary and of what he was able to contribute to Rotary.

The people whom I see in old photographs of the club are all people whom I recognise and who were important parts of my life. I also knew what they did to support the local community and communities across the world. If the test—the ethical guide that Rotarians seek to live their lives by and to operate as Rotarians under—were adopted by us all in our own lives, we would be doing something quite special. We would run out of awards to give to people if everyone were to be serving. That would be no bad thing. We should aim for a day when we are a little less selfish and little more selfless.

I celebrate the efforts of Rotary clubs in Scotland and I hope that they will continue to evolve. From my contact with them, I know that they are very different from what they were 60 years ago; for example, the number of women members has grown, and the clubs are all the better for it. They also reach much further across the world. In the 1960s the Rotary Club of Cupar reached to Japan, which was thought to be extraordinarily novel.

Let me wish the Rotary clubs every possible success in the future. They had early promise, when after only 16 years they were established on six continents. Maybe we should invent some more continents—Rotary would be there before we turned our backs.


23 March 2017

S5M-04789 British Sign Language (Draft National Plan)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04789, in the name of Mark McDonald, on the consultation on the draft British Sign Language national plan.

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

The fifth of May 2015 was a very important day in the life of the Parliament, as it was the day that the Parliament was awarded a charter mark from Action on Hearing Loss. The charter mark is a nationally recognised accreditation for organisations that offer excellent levels of service and accessibility for people who are deaf or who have hearing loss. Perhaps more important is that it was also the day when we started the parliamentary debate on the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill. Mark Griffin came to Parliament on that day to propose that we adopt the general principles of the bill, which we gladly and unanimously did. I was happy to speak in that debate and to support Mark Griffin’s proposals.

Sign language is not simply limited to people who use BSL; we all have our individual sign languages. I have just exchanged signs with the Presiding Officer in order to establish for how long she wants me to speak, and I am quite convinced that I saw her say that I have 27 minutes, although it might be that my ability to read her signs is somewhat incomplete. When we wink, the context makes it clear what we are likely to mean. If I am winking at an attractive young lady—well, members can work out that message. In other circumstances, a wink means something different. If I slap my forehead, I am saying, “I’m being stupid; I’ve forgotten something.” If I wave my hand, it is “Hello.” We are all familiar with the concept of sign language, even if we do not know a single gesture of BSL.

I have one phrase of BSL—let us see whether members know what it means. I am signing, “I am ZS”, which merely leads members to another puzzle. When I worked as a software engineer, the engineers used two letters to represent themselves, and Sammy Stein had stolen SS before I got there, so I became ZS. To this day, my intimates from that period of my life continue to know me as ZS.

There are one or two things about the Government’s consultation that I have not seen before—they are particular to the consultation. First, I very much welcome the fact that people can respond to the consultation by submitting a YouTube video or a Vimeo clip as a GIF—graphics interchange format—file. Given the nature of BSL as a visual language, that is right and proper, but I would not have thought of it myself. It is something that I will try to remember.

In my intervention on the minister’s speech, I mentioned Doric BSL. I was told at the back of the chamber that I had forgotten about the Weegies. I have no idea what that means, of course, coming from somewhere else, as I do.

The consultation document is impressive, but it is also challenging. It contains 55 commitments—members can see that I am using my hand, almost unconsciously, to reinforce my message. I particularly approve of commitments 20 to 22, to which several members referred and which are about offering BSL as a second language. The one-plus-two language initiative in schools is very welcome, because people who learn two languages create in their brains neural pathways that raise their overall academic achievement. I can see that in my family: I have a Danish great-nephew and great-niece whose father is Scots and their mother Danish. They are bilingual, and I can see how that helps their intellectual development.

Commitments 23 and 24 are about support during post-school education, which is also important. A close family member of mine is dyslexic. She had the right support throughout her career, including at university, where someone was able to help her to understand the questions that she could not read properly on exam papers. She graduated with an honours degree and is now a very successful manager of a pharmacological laboratory. She has put her disability, or condition, behind her, simply by getting the right kind of support.

It is worth saying that aspects of this city are relevant in respect of support for people who are deaf. Thomas Braidwood, who lived from 1715 to 1806, founded what is thought to have been the first school for the deaf, here in this city. When Dr Samuel Johnson visited Edinburgh in 1773, he said:

“There is one subject of philosophical curiosity in Edinburgh which no other city has to show; a College for the Deaf and Dumb”.

Dr Joshua Reynolds, the world-famous portrait painter, was deaf, but it did not prevent him from creating an international reputation that endures to this day. John Goodricke, who died in 1786 at the age of 21, was elected to the Royal Society right at the end of his life because he was the first person to spot the periodic nature of illuminations from particular stars and identify the reasons for that. He was a scientist par excellence who was also deaf.

It has been a matter of public policy to take an interest in deafness, and I know that it has also touched democracy. As far as I am aware, there has been only one deaf member of the UK Parliament, Jack Ashley, and he was a special case because he was elected hearing and became deaf.

Let us hope that we can continue with the Government’s excellent document and support people to engage with BSL and, as a wider issue, support people who are deaf.


21 March 2017

S5M-04710 Independence Referendum

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04710, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on Scotland’s choice.

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

Listening to colleagues across the chamber has been an interesting exercise in democracy. When the Official Report is published, I will definitely read some speeches with great care. I will read Alex Rowley’s contribution, not because I agreed with his conclusions, but because of the quality of the argument that he deployed in support of his conclusions, and I will read Bruce Crawford’s speech again because of the moderation of his expression and his felicitations.

Ivan McKee delineated an interesting approach, and Adam Tomkins—who is not a man who I have often found myself in agreement with, in conclusion—at least had the decency to argue a case in which step A was followed by step B, which was followed by step C. I see that he has been absent from the chamber for some time. I hope that he, too, will read a number of speeches from the debate.

Jenny Marra talked about how difficult it is to get into the EU, but an interesting thing about the EU is how flexible it is. It took only three months for East Germany to get into the EU, curiously enough. There is also a curious exception in the EU that is relevant to my constituents’ particular hatred of the common fisheries policy, which is entirely justified—the SNP has sustained its opposition to the common fisheries policy from 1975 to the present day. There is a full member of the EU that is not in the common fisheries policy, even though it is a coastal state: Gibraltar. It might be a tiny exception, but it shows that democratic societies and institutions are capable of being flexible.

I want to talk a little about why the United Kingdom might now be past the point of recovery. The people who voted to leave the EU in the recent referendum should perhaps take heart from the fact that under the rules for admission to the EU, the United Kingdom could not be re-admitted. The reason for that is article 2, which requires respect for democracy and stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy. Functional democratic governance requires that all citizens of the country should be able to participate, on an equal basis, in political decision making at every single governing level. In the UK, the majority of national politicians are unelected and cannot be dismissed. Therefore, in European terms, the UK is not a democracy. That should give heart to those who voted to leave.

Of course, there is more to say in that regard when we consider the processes in Westminster. Alison Thewliss, my MP colleague, has discovered that it is impossible for any parliamentary process to oppose a negative instrument. In the case in point, that penalises tax credit applicants who have a third child by requiring them to show that the child was conceived through rape. That is not how a modern progressive democracy should work.

I want to say a few words about fishing, because there is no doubt that people who have interests in fishing were the most antipathetic to the European project—and with good reason. When I came to Parliament in 2001, my first speech was on the common fisheries policy, at a time when we were savaging our fleet at Europe’s behest, while the EU was funding the building of new boats in Spain—which were, of course, to fish in our waters. If we get anything out of the position that we are in today, it is the opportunity to reset access to our national waters. The four candidates who stood in my parliamentary constituency in last year’s election were all remainers, but we all share a duty to support the interests of our constituents.

Lewis Macdonald: Should a second independence referendum go ahead, is it Mr Stevenson’s intention to ask the fishermen in his constituency to vote to leave the United Kingdom in order to rejoin the European Union?

Stewart Stevenson
: I direct the member to “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, paragraph 127, which sets out that, under our proposed compromise,

“we are clear that under this option we would not remain within the Common Fisheries Policy.”

We are being flexible and offering compromise. Would that others would do the same.

Let me say a little about where the UK and Scotland can go from the guddle in which we find ourselves. “Guddle” is the only word for where we are at the moment. In times of crisis, the UK has, on occasion, been bold enough to bring everyone into the room in an attempt to solve a problem. On fishing, the simple point is that fishing would be protected and the arguments would be taken forward if the Scottish fishing minister led the way in debates with the EU. I urge the UK Government to listen to that suggestion. The approach would take a burden off its shoulders and give it time to do other things, and it would help us and ensure that we got the outcome that we require for our fishermen.


16 March 2017

S5M-04534 Draft Climate Change Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04534, in the name of Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, on reports on the “Draft Climate Change Plan: The draft third report on policies and proposals 2017-2032”.


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

Richard Leonard quoted Alfred Whitehead. Lord Whitehead also said: “all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us.”

I think that we can all agree with that, because we are talking about the anthropogenic effects on climate change.

I am particularly interested in the one-by-one approach. In other words, it is all very well having in place the technology and having the Government take actions but, ultimately, it will require each individual in our society—one by one—to identify actions that they can take to help the climate change agenda.

This week, I am contributing a little bit to active travel. So far, I have walked 17 miles. That is not a huge amount—although it sounds a lot when you add up the miles day by day—but it is better than getting the taxi up to the station every day. Walking helps me to become a little bit fitter and it is better for the climate.

Individual behaviours present significant challenges. When I first came to Parliament, I drove 40,000 miles a year; now I drive 7,000 or 8,000 miles a year. I represent a rural constituency, so I cannot eliminate all car use, but I now use the train in a way that I certainly did not previously.

Thanks to the free bus pass that was introduced by a previous Labour-Liberal Administration, I use the bus, too.

Gordon Lindhurst was quite wrong when he said that the whole world recognises the problem of climate change. Only yesterday, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, cut the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 per cent—the biggest cut in his proposed budget of any part of public administration in the United States. He has populated the agency with a raft of climate change deniers and we are days away from their resiling from the signing of the Paris agreement on climate change.

We are in a territory of unprecedented challenge over which we have little control, so it is important that we do the best and the most that we possibly can. So far, so good. It is great that we reached our 2020 targets years ahead of the plan. The 66 per cent target that we are setting for 2032 is ambitious, and the next part of our implementation of climate change plans will be more challenging than the parts that we have already undertaken.

I am of the age at which, on a day when I feel a little bit lower than I am today—today, I have a spring in my step—I might give some thought to what my obituary might say. It might describe me as the minister for snow—a title given to me because the weather forecast was 0.4°C out and therefore et cetera—but I hope that it might also say that I was the minister who took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through Parliament. That bill was very important for Parliament, because we passed it absolutely unanimously, so I hope that as we look at the draft climate change plan—capable of improvement as it undoubtedly is—we can achieve the unanimity that will help to take us forward.

Some of the issues that are discussed in the plan and which have come up in the debate relate to technological solutions. We must encourage every possible technological opportunity that will help the agenda—not only because it will help the agenda but because our taking the initiative creates business opportunities for us. Carbon capture and storage is one such opportunity—especially with regard to gas-powered stations. We need to get off gas, but while we have it, we will be able to use it more efficiently and with a much smaller carbon footprint.

I should, however, enter a couple of caveats. The use of low-emission vehicles, in particular those that are electrically powered, raises significant challenges in the medium term, because the world is now beginning to see a limitation, with regard to the amount of lithium that exists. The technology for batteries—lithium-ion technology—has not really changed much in 30 years. Lots of good things are happening in the laboratory; nanocarbon cathodes, in particular, might help, although there are still issues with the acid burning them away. I hope that technology can help.

I want to close by quoting John Gummer, from the Committee for Climate Change, who said yesterday: “Over the past eight years measures to combat global warming have cut carbon emissions without raising” any “electricity bills for UK households.”

There are many myths around, and we have to demolish them. We have a lot of work to do, but I know that the Government will want to do it.


07 March 2017

S5M-04440 International Women’s Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04440, in the name of Angela Constance, on international women’s day.

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

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about international women’s day. I will say a few words about legislative issues.

We currently have the Great Reform Bill before the Parliament at Westminster. We might remind ourselves that the previous Great Reform Bill, in 1832, removed the right of women to vote. The electorate in those days was very small and there was a property qualification, but women who met that qualification and who were not married or were head of household could vote. That danger exists with the Great Reform Bill today, as it potentially takes away rights and equalities for a wide range of people.

The year 1893 was important in legislative terms. New Zealand, which was the first jurisdiction in the world to allow equal voting for men and women, led the way. In the UK, some progress, but not very much, was made with the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act 1893—the fifth such act since 1870—which, for the first time, allowed women to own property in their own right, rather than it being the property of their husbands.

In 1917—in particular, 100 years ago tomorrow—there was a strike and a protest by the women of Russia. The bread and peace strike and protest led, only four days later, to the fall of the czar and then the white Russian revolution, which later in the year led to the red Russian revolution. Women have influenced politics for a long time.

The cabinet secretary referred to Ban Ki-moon. The United Nations Charter, which was adopted in 1945, was the first international agreement that included within it the fundamental principle of equality between men and women. The United Nations is to be commended for its early action on the subject.

On 1 January 1975, the Equal Pay Act came into operation. My wife rejoiced, because that was the first time in her career that she had been able to enter her company’s pension plan. She was in the plan right to the point of her retirement, but the problem of her entering it late affected her pension; it is some 20 per cent lower than it might have been. Even something that happened in 1975 continues to have effects to this day.

My wife, who worked in the finance industry, was pretty much on her own, because there was only one other woman at senior level. She specialised in investment trusts and used to go to the Association of Investment Companies annual dinners, where she was one of only two women among the 300 or 400 people there. She was fortunate that Joe Gormley, then the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, who was one of the biggest investors as the chair of the miners’ pension fund, insisted that my wife always sat next to him—and he always bought the drink. He was a sexist, but that sometimes worked in some people’s favour.

I am slightly surprised that members are saying that there are no serious businesspeople, because my wife was a mentor to Audrey Baxter, who is the executive chairman of Baxters Food Group. There are, exceptionally, some women at senior levels in some businesses in Scotland.

On a personal level, I point to my Aunt Daisy, who worked in a munitions factory in the first world war, where she lost one of her fingers in an industrial accident—she was one of very many who did so. Curiously enough, when my mother first voted, she had two votes because she was a university graduate and they got an additional vote.

There are some female heroes whom it is worth having a wee think about. My professional career, which started in the 1960s, was in computers. Ada Lovelace, who was Charles Babbage’s programmer in the 1860s and 1870s, was the person who invented—look it up—the algorithmic approach to programming, which underpins the way in which we do things today. However, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who programmed the Harvard mark 1 computer in the United States in 1944, was the real founder of the way in which we do programming today. It was because of the bug—that is the American word for a moth—that she found in the computer that, to this day, we use that word for an error in a computer programme.

Tomorrow is daffodil day, and the Marie Curie nurses will have a stand in the Parliament. Marie Curie was the first and only person to win two Nobel prizes in two different scientific disciplines. Is she not a hero to aspire to?

An example of how things were not so good is Steve Shirley, the founder and chief executive of a consultancy company called FI Group in the 1970s. We might think that Steve is a man’s name, and she intended that we think it so, although she is actually called Stephanie. She used the name Steve so that, until she eventually appeared before her clients, they did not know that she was a woman, and she was very successful indeed.

Today, on climate justice—which is a real women’s issue—Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, is leading the way in ensuring that we do the right things.

Fairness for women in no way diminishes men; rather, it rewards all of us in society, because equality for all is a necessary prerequisite of fairness for all.


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