31 May 2017

S5M-05455 Child Safety Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05455, in the name of Clare Adamson, on child safety week 5 to 11 June 2017, safe children: sharing is caring. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Child Safety Week, the flagship annual campaign run by the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), takes place this year between 5 and 11 June 2017 and its theme is “sharing is caring”; further notes that accidents are a leading cause of death, serious injury and acquired disability for children and young people in the UK, that they account for three deaths every week and over 2,000 hospital admissions and that many of these accidents can be prevented; commends CAPT’s aim of securing a safer environment for children of all ages by helping families understand the risks, as well as the consequences, but most importantly, the simple ways that accidents can be prevented; further commends work undertaken in Child Safety Week in bringing together individuals and organisations around the UK to promote safety messages to families in a fun and engaging way and encourage parents and carers to increase confidence by sharing experiences and learning; congratulates CAPT and other organisations working in accident prevention on their outstanding dedication, in particular the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) which, this year, celebrates its centenary; notes RoSPA’s past successes from the Tufty Club in the 1960s and the introduction of the seatbelt law in the 1980s, to a successful campaign for moulded plugs in 1992 and EU-wide regulations on looped blind cords in 2014; further notes the new hazards for parents and carers to be aware of such as liquid laundry capsules, button batteries, hair straighteners and nappy sacks, and congratulates all those many organisations that continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively in the field of accident prevention and child safety.

... ... ...

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

I declare that I am a member of the safety-related body, the Institute of Advanced Motorists. I congratulate Clare Adamson on bringing the subject of the debate to Parliament tonight.

I was probably the pupil who always sat at the back of the class not listening to, or engaging with, safety messages. I have a long history of what I can only describe as attempted suicide. I will start with being in the Rev Willie McCraw’s manse garden at Bow of Fife at the age of approximately three, when a swing hit me in the middle of the nose. That meant my first visit to the hospital, which I still remember. There was a white line down a table which I had to lie on so that my nose could be X-rayed—it was not broken.

Aged 15, I am cycling back from the football, my football boots are hanging over the handlebars and the studs in the boots are engaging with the wheel, but I am ignoring that. Eventually, they get trapped in the spokes, the bike stops and I fly over the handlebars and land on my elbows, which both swell up: another visit to the hospital, but I still did not manage to break anything.

My memories are not quite in the right order, but not long after we got a television, I saw that the power cable was unplugged and thought that it would be a jolly good wheeze to stick my finger in the socket to see what electricity was like. I had a black line round the finger and a near-death experience.

One would think that those various experiences as a child would teach me to be a more sensible adult. Hardly. On 4 November 1975—parachute failure at Strathallan at 3.30 in the afternoon. It is strange that I can remember the time. In April 1965, I was out with my pals and we had been up Ben Macdui and were walking back across—suddenly, one cloud appears and we are in almost zero visibility, I am at the front of the queue and we have not roped up, put our crampons back on or any of that stuff. I get too near the edge of the corrie, walk on to a snow cornice, fall 300 feet and walk away. I still did not manage to break anything.

In 1980, we decided to go to Peru, despite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office having said “essential travel only”. The taxi that we were travelling in as we went over the Andes, because the trains were on strike, got shot at. The bullet hit the car just 2 feet behind me. So, that was another one.

In 1956—this is entirely relevant, so members should listen carefully—I got sunstroke at Benderloch beach and was hospitalised at Oban. I survived that one as well. So, I am doing pretty well. By the way, I have come off a plane in an emergency on three occasions, so do not fly with me.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes, of course I will.

Jackie Baillie: I am trying not to have an accident in making this intervention.

The gallery is starting to clear at that litany of accidents. I wonder whether Stewart Stevenson would, given his tendency to have accidents, recommend that we should, in fact, clear the chamber right now.

Stewart Stevenson: Of course, I would draw an entirely different conclusion: if there is going to be an accident, people will want me there because I always survive, and they probably will, too. We are politicians: we can turn any example of anything to any point.

There is a serious point to all this, besides my just having a bit of knockabout fun. Parents and everybody else simply cannot anticipate every danger to which children will choose to expose themselves. My parents simply did not know that I was going to do all those daft things. As well as responding to specific dangers, we must think about how to educate our children to recognise that they are putting themselves in danger and to recognise appropriate actions to mitigate the effects of putting themselves in danger. I do not know how to do that, by the way, but I state it as an important point to think about.

Every day we hold our lives in our hands. When I look at my hands, I can see the scar from when I was drilling into metal and forgot to key the bit, and I look at what happened when I tried to scythe off my thumb. More important, I can look at where six stitches had to be put in my hand when I stuck it through a letter box and a dog got it. That was during a Falkirk East by-election campaign.

Life is full of hazards, and children will meet those hazards, as well.

I congratulate all those who seek to support children and, more fundamentally, who seek to support them to be safer and more responsible citizens than I have ever chosen to be in my entire life.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Please be careful when you sit down. The wheels on the chairs can be a bit dodgy.


S5M-05864 Protecting Workers’ Rights

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05864, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on protecting workers’ rights.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Michelle Ballantyne on her first speech in Parliament. I see that she attracted a large and appreciative audience for it—at least among her own party. I well remember my first speech in Parliament, which was in June 2001. As Michelle Ballantyne did, I joined the Parliament late, in mid-session, and not at the general election. I wish her every success—short of actual victory, that is—in her time in Parliament, and I look forward to hearing a speech from her that I can agree with in full.

I think that Michelle Ballantyne said that the only way to achieve change is through politics. I sincerely hope that that is not true. In particular it is, in the context of today’s debate, also possible to achieve useful change through trade union activity. It is another very important way of achieving change.

We are debating the protection of workers’ rights, but we should pay continuous attention to the issue. I do not think that we could reasonably describe our Tory colleagues in particular as the natural friends of workers—perhaps the deletions that the Tory amendment seeks to make to the motion illustrate that. The Tories are unconcerned about how their particular plans for how we should leave the EU will impact on workers or more broadly, and it is clear that they wish to see continuation of the substantial fees that workers endure when they go to employment tribunals. The people who have least are being asked to contribute most for their own justice. In general, the Tories seek to defend their pernicious Trade Union Act 2016.

I find that I can agree with Labour colleagues—even during an election campaign. I recognise that opponents have articulated good sense when they suggest that the EU-derived workplace laws must be fully protected. I absolutely support that.

Moreover, when the Greens call for environmentally responsible business practices—again, that is not something that the Tories sign up to; I cite as an example the cancellation of the important carbon-capture project at Peterhead, under what would have been a major employer—I find common cause with those colleagues.

Let us talk about trade unions. During my working life before Parliament, I was a member of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union. I must confess that I was not an active member; I simply paid my subscription, as someone who wanted to know that the union was there, should I ever need it, although I hoped that I never would. When I became a manager, sitting opposite the union on the other side of the table and discussing activities in our company, I remained a member.

With regard to the provisions of the Tory act that very specifically attacks trade unions, I note that section 2 requires a 50 per cent turnout of eligible electors for any ballot for industrial action. If that were a principled position, it would also apply, for example, to local authority elections. Of course, it does not—in fact, it applies nowhere else. If it did, however, half of Tory councillors would not be in office. I must say that in that respect it is quite tempting, in its way.

However, under section 3 of the 2016 act, 40 per cent of eligible voters have to vote in favour of a strike. That is extremely challenging—as those of us who campaigned in 1979 with regard to the Scotland Act 1978 will be aware as we recall the George Cunningham amendment that required a similar 40 per cent of the electorate. If we were to apply the same rule to local government, it would probably mean that the Tories would have no councillors at all—which is extremely tempting. There is a matter of principle here, though; that provision is a serious illustration of the fact that the objective of the 2016 act is to neuter trade unions, not to protect workers’ rights. I also note other measures relating to the check-off system and the loss of facility time.

As we have heard, there is substantial evidence that trade unions are contributors to the success of businesses, companies and public services. Where unions are part of the decision making, better decision making results and success for the enterprise can follow. It might go back a while, but research that was undertaken by the Royal College of Nursing which has been subsequently endorsed shows lower leaving rates in unionised businesses, lower use of employment tribunals, fewer workplace injuries and less illness. That is a pretty good return for sharing, through the involvement of trade unions, decision making across all the people who work in an organisation.

I have been talking about the 2016 act, but I will close with some evidence from this Parliament of that same attitude to workers. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill was introduced to create additional protections for some of our most important public servants. We had a passionate and informed debate, and SNP members supported the bill, which had been introduced by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition. However, when our Parliament voted on the bill’s general principles on 30 September 2004, only one of the seven members who I think are still here now voted against. Guess who? It was Murdo Fraser. Then as now, the idea was to deprive workers of their proper rights. The leopard never changes its spots—and the Tories will never work in the interests of workers.


24 May 2017

S5M-05733 Cyber-resilience

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05733, in the name of John Swinney, on safe, secure and prosperous: achieving a cyber-resilient Scotland.

... ... ...

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

On 9 February 1984, we saw the launch of the first real-time, high-value money transfer system: the clearing house automated payments system, or CHAPS. I was the project manager for the Bank of Scotland, which was the first bank ready to implement. I well remember our excitement later that year when we made our first real-time, irrevocable payment of over £1 billion pounds. By 2011, the system had processed £1 quadrillion of transactions—in other words, a thousand million million pounds, or a 1 followed by 15 zeros.

To secure the transactions, I had to gain permission from the US Department of Defense—and sign my life away—to use what was categorised as weapons-grade encryption and digital signing software. It operated from within a black box that self-destructed if someone attempted to open it to examine its contents. The technology was—and is—as secure as one could possibly imagine, and the objective today should be to ensure that every business and individual is in possession of similarly impenetrable security. We are, but we do not all choose to implement it. My point, however, is that even if we do so, we do not necessarily use it in a way that allows it to be as secure as we might imagine it to be. For the most part, it is not the technology that fails; it is humans who fail.

The motion says that

“citizens ... must be aware of the risks”.

Indeed, in his opening remarks, John Swinney said that this should not be the responsibility of the Government alone. The history of human failure to properly use secure data systems goes back a very long way. Two thousand years ago, slaves had their heads shaved. A message was written on their scalp; the hair grew back; and the slave and the message were sent elsewhere. That was all well and good—until people realised what method was being used. Having a secret method provides no real security, and that remains true today.

Indeed, effective data security systems rely on their having been published and scrutinised to confirm that their methods are sound. However, we need to keep the keys secret and change them frequently. In the 16th century, Mary Queen of Scots used a two-cover system to protect her confidential messages. The first was a secure box with two locks and a key for each—she had one key, while the other was held by the recipient; and no one else had access to either key. Mary put her message in the box, she locked it and then it went to the recipient, who used his key to lock his lock. The box came back to Mary, who unlocked her lock, and went back to the recipient, who unlocked his. It was a secure system for transmitting a message from A to B in the 16th century, because nobody shared the key or had access to it.

The second aspect of the system was encryption of the message inside the box through a letter-substitution system. However, that is where Mary fell down. She thought that the system was totally secure, because transmission was secure, but when the message came out of the box, she forgot that it was now a bit of paper that was available to anyone who might be passing. Queen Elizabeth I picked up one of her messages and was able to unscramble it, and it formed part of the evidence at Mary Queen of Scots’ trial, which caused her to be executed. Data security is quite important.

Napoleon had le grande chiffre—the great code. Common letters of the alphabet were not always coded in the same way, so that people could not break it by analysing frequency. However, encoders started to use some of the spare codes over and over again, as place names for where the fighting was, in order to save time and effort. Wellington’s code-breaker was a guy called George Scovell and, because of the weak way in which that good system was used, he managed to break in. When Wellington got to the battle of Waterloo, he knew what Napoleon’s plans were and that led to the end of an empire. Again, that was human error.

The Enigma machine, which the Germans thought was unbreakable until 1945, was actually broken by the Poles in 1932. Bletchley Park broke a later, improved version because, every day at 6 am, the Germans sent out an encrypted weather forecast. The fact that it was in the same format and at the same time every day enabled people at Bletchley Park to break what should have been a very secure system—of course, they had to do lots of other good things as well. Once again, there was human error.

Most of us know how to drive a car, but rather fewer of us know how the mechanical bits work or how to fix them when they fail. Most of us also know how to use a computer and perhaps even use the security functions that are provided with it. However, as with a car, if we do not get an expert to service it regularly or to fix it when it fails, disaster will loom. All businesses should have regular security check-ups. They will not be free, but the cost of not doing them will be even higher. It is like insurance; it is a product that a business cannot just buy when it wants it—when its reputation is trashed and its customers have flown, paying a little bit once a year will seem very cheap.

My final example of a security problem is from the modern world. I bought a good-quality second-hand car, as I usually do, and it had all the gadgets, including a Bluetooth connection for my phone. That is good technology, but an unaware previous owner of my car had left his phone’s entire contact list in the car’s memory. Do members realise that they could do that, too? I am a good guy and I deleted it, but suppose the chief executive—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You are such a good guy that you have to wind up now, intriguing though this is, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: In that case, Presiding Officer, let me caution chief executives and chairmen of companies not to use Bluetooth in their cars unless they know how to delete data from the memory. I am a good guy and I deleted it, but not everybody is as honest and trustworthy as I am.


23 May 2017

S5M-05136 World Hypertension Month

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05136, in the name of Maree Todd, on May 2017—world hypertension month. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that May 2017 marks World Hypertension Month; understands that this awareness month will highlight this silent condition, which is a preventable cause of stroke and heart disease, and provide information regarding its prevention, detection and treatment; notes that it is estimated to cause around nine million deaths globally each year; understands that 30% of adults in Scotland have high blood pressure, half of whom are not receiving treatment, and that 70,860 people in the Highlands and Islands region are living with the condition, and acknowledges and welcomes the work of Professor Rhian Touyz, of the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Glasgow, which aims to understand the causes of hypertension.

... ... ...

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

Like other members, I thank Maree Todd for the opportunity to discuss something that is probably of interest to every one of us, with regard either to ourselves individually or to a family member.

I am not a regular reader of Hypertension News, but in the February 2017 edition I read about the objective of screening the blood pressure of 25 million people in May. I advise the chamber that I have made my little contribution to that, with the very helpful co-operation of my MSP colleague Emma Harper. Earlier today she had her sphygmomanometer and her stethoscope at the ready, and she took my blood pressure. It was not good news, but I had just come up the stairs and had not yet sat down and done my calming down. My blood pressure was 158 over 70, which is okay on the diastolic and a wee bit high on the systolic, and a wee bit higher than the previous time that I had it checked, when it was 130 over 75, which is kind of where I would like to be. However, I am going to go away and think about this salt business. I might even give up drinking for a couple of days. There are things that each of us can do.

There are a lot of quite interesting articles in Hypertension News. For example, there was an article about a slim and quite fit 54-year-old German lady whose systolic blood pressure is regularly over 300 and whose diastolic blood pressure is in the 170 to 180 range. She is quite healthy, but the drugs have stopped working for her. That is one illustration among many that each hypertensive person is likely to be individual and to require individual attention.

Hypertension News has also talked about a lot of work that has been done to identify DNA triggers that might create a predisposition to hypertension, or that one might address by resetting the DNA. It is fair to say that that has had almost no success whatsoever. It has been suggested that only 1 millimetre of mercury of blood pressure, which is but nothing—it is beyond clinical measurement accuracy—is attributable to DNA. Therefore, we do not know why hypertension happens, which is quite worrying in light of the number of people that it affects. We should continue to support the efforts of the British Heart Foundation and others to research conditions that adversely affect the heart. I know from the reading that I have done, at least today, that we know much less than I thought that we knew, and that is a bit concerning.

My hobby is family research. I have read more than 2,000 death certificates in my family tree, and am relatively pleased that dying from heart failure has not been a major cause of death in my family, although strokes have been quite common in it. I will go away and have a think about that.

As a private pilot, I have an annual medical, which includes testing my blood pressure, testing my urine to see whether I am diabetic, testing my hearing and eyesight, and an electrocardiogram test. In nearly 30 years, I have had only a single ectopic heartbeat in my ECG, which is good news, but there has been a steady growth in my blood pressure. That will not be unusual.

I am going to think about my diet—maybe salt in particular. The association of diet and hypertension is quite well known, and it is relatively well known that the Mediterranean diet is not associated with hypertension. The really bad news this week is that there is an olive oil shortage because of weather conditions. I encourage colleagues to use Scottish extra virgin rapeseed oil, which is a good substitute for olive oil. People can get it in my constituency in the north-east of Scotland. Do not worry: we have the solution in the north-east, even if the Italians are letting the side down by not producing enough olive oil.

The subject is fascinating, and I am sure that it will run. I am interested in hearing what Mr Whittle in particular is going to say, because I know that he is very interested in it.


S5M-05655 Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05655, in the name of Gillian Martin, on the Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

Sometimes we legislate to fix a problem; sometimes we legislate to prevent a problem; sometimes we legislate to reform or simplify; sometimes we legislate to create opportunity; and sometimes we legislate for the benefit of institutions or individuals. The reasons why we legislate are many and diverse—my list is far from complete. Each bill must stand on its merits or fall because of its shortcomings. The Seat Belts on School Transport (Scotland) Bill lies in the territory of fixing a problem and of preventing one. As a member’s bill, it is, of necessity, relatively limited in its scope.

Why this bill and why now? My late constituent Ron Beaty from Gamrie turned his attention to the safety of school transport after his granddaughter was severely affected by an accident after alighting from a school bus. I have met Ron Beaty’s granddaughter, and I met Ron not long before he died, as did Gillian Martin when she discussed the prospective bill with him.

Ron Beaty was one of those dogged campaigners that Scotland—perhaps Scotland in particular—throws up. He understood that there were no simple or quick solutions. For more than a decade, he attended Public Petitions Committee and other committee meetings and parliamentary debates—wherever road safety was being discussed. Even if the issue was likely to be given only procedural consideration, the odds were that Ron had made the journey of four-plus hours to Edinburgh to show us all that he was holding us to account.

The bill is not the limit of what Ron Beaty campaigned for but it is a useful part of it. The power to require the fitting of seat belts on school buses is one that we can now exercise, but it is currently beyond our powers to require the wearing of seat belts. However, because we can do only a little—because we cannot do all that we want to do—we should not choose to do nothing. We can and should persuade people to use seat belts. As we have been reminded in the past couple of days by one bus company, even when every bus is fitted with seat belts, we need legislation in place to maintain that for the future, for everyone, for ever.

Let us consider the value of seat belts in our road transport system. Members have already mentioned some of the relevant dates and I will not repeat them. However, I will say is that thousands of lives have been saved by seat belts. The United States Department of Transportation has estimated that, in one of the early years after seat belts were fitted there, 12,000 lives were saved.

I first fitted seat belts to my car in 1964, after seeing the brain damage suffered by a patient for whom I was a nurse. I have worn them from that day onwards. More recently, I came upon an urban collision at comparatively low-impact speed in which a driver had not been wearing a seat belt and was scalped. It was not a pretty sight. I could tell members more but I shall not.

We have all but normalised the wearing of safety hats by cyclists, which shows what can be done. We now need to achieve the same breakthrough in the wearing of seat belts on buses, which, according to a fully referenced Wikipedia article, became a legal requirement in the Czech Republic in 2004 and in Finland in 2006. It is also a legal requirement in France, Germany, Japan and—from last year—even Burma.

The relevant regulations are the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations 2006. I had a quick look at them in light of remarks by Liam Kerr and Gail Ross. Regulation 3 appears to suggest that seat belts must always conform to regulations. I take it that seat belts therefore have to be kept in working order. They will be checked at the MOT—that is for sure—but there is a legal obligation to keep them in working order.

Like lots of legislation, legislation in this area is complex and amends other legislation. The regulations require the driver to tell passengers to wear their seat belt. They also require a blue sign on every seat. I have seen that sign many a time and did not know what it meant. I wonder whether it is particularly effective, but, again, it is something that needs to be done.

I very much welcome the bill and am happy to support its general principles. I wish the bill bon voyage.


18 May 2017

S5M-05630 Partnership Action for Continuing Employment

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05630, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on partnership action for continuing employment, which is known to all and sundry, and to us, as PACE

.... ... ...

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

Bill Bowman introduced an Andy Grove quote to the debate and there is another quote of his that might be useful, which is:

“The ability to recognise that the winds have shifted and to take appropriate action before you wreck your boat is crucial to the future of an enterprise”.

There is also the well-recognised Dutch saying “Een schip op het strand is een baken op zee”, or, in English, “A shipwreck on the shore is a warning to the sailor”.

In Andy Grove’s autobiography, he talked about strategic inflection points, which are when something suddenly happens that one has not seen coming and one has to respond to it. That has happened many times in history. For example, when Fritz Haber discovered the importance of nitrogen fixing, that led to the end of the runrig agriculture system, the start of the enclosure system and the removal of many people from the land. That is why there was a workforce to create the industrial revolution, so we could argue that it was a benefit. However, I am not sure that it helped the people very much, as their lives were probably much more miserable in the city squalor that they experienced than in the rural area.

By the same token, McCormick’s reaper, which was invented in the 1830s, transformed the way in which employment worked in agriculture, as did Cartwright’s invention of the power loom in the 1780s, which threw many people out of work.

Division of labour has deskilled many people over the years—that is not new. Plato’s “Republic” referred to the division of labour, so the idea has been around for a long time. Adam Smith talked about it in “The Wealth of Nations” in relation to the manufacture of pins.

Those were the threats in the mechanical world; computers bring their own new threats. From the 1960s onwards, computers automated routine activities that were often done by large numbers of people in back offices. There was a move to the creation of new products that displaced existing products from markets and, with the advent of the internet, computers have threatened, and will threaten even more in future, our high streets as retail changes. The next big revolution—artifical intelligence—is with us now and will displace many intellectual activities.

Elaine Smith: I would like to share something else that Dave Watson said today in his article in The Scotsman. He said:

“Like all new technology, the robots probably won’t deliver all that they promise. In the meantime, human beings in the workplace deserve a bit more dignity and will deliver more without being turned into robots.”

Does the member agree that dignity of labour and dignity in the workplace are extremely important?

Stewart Stevenson: The member is absolutely correct. I have not read Dave Watson’s article, but I will make sure that I do so before the sun goes down behind the yardarm, or whatever it does later in the day.

I want to give a few further reflections about what happened in Fraserburgh, because that has been my experience of PACE and there are one or two things that are not process things that are worth looking at.

We got all the people in the room and the Government very generously provided tea, coffee and biscuits. There was a lot of genuine informal networking before the meeting, during breaks in the meeting and after the meeting that, I suspect, had as much value as the formal session round the square table in the leisure centre in Fraserburgh. It meant that people who had responsibilities could not escape the people who were affected by how they discharged those responsibilities, which was quite important.

The other thing with the Fraserburgh experience—although, as far as I am aware, we never discussed it—was that it appeared to work on a Chatham house basis. In other words, we were able to open up and talk about things in some comfort that what was said in the room would not be taken up and used outside the room to disadvantage the people who were present, although, as under Chatham house rules, we could later refer to the matters that were discussed.

I do not know whether the intervention in Fraserburgh, where hundreds of people were going to lose their jobs, is typical of how it works in similar major events. I thought that the soft things about how it worked in practice were driven by the personal characteristics of many people in the room.

The trade unions were there. At the first meeting, we had three or four trade unionists present, and Unite the union did an excellent job in representing the workers, but even they had a difficulty because the factory concerned has a huge, international, multilingual workforce, and there was support from translation services to help the unions to make better contact with many of the people who were not actually union members, for all sorts of historical reasons, but who nonetheless properly required the kind of support that comes from the trade unions.

Creating the opportunity for people in the room to be supported, so that they could support the workers, was a good aspect of that meeting. It was also good to have the company in the room, because the company was being run from Hull, with management decisions being made in Hull, and there was competition between the opportunities in Hull and those in Fraserburgh, with each location offering different things. Having the company in the room made a huge difference to its understanding of the future support that it could be given to develop its facility in Fraserburgh, and that ultimately protected the facility for the longer term.

Oliver Mundell might be interested to know that, because of where the meeting was held, we had both Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise in the room, and that was immensely valuable, because they each brought different things specific to their areas, just as I am sure the south of Scotland enterprise agency will do. It was just such a strategic inflection point that got us to the task force. It was the sudden and unexpected loss of the most profitable contract, when the purchaser took that business elsewhere, that created the need for the PACE response.

If anybody has learned anything from today’s debate, Richard Leonard has learned of the curse of the 140-character limit on Twitter. Let us hope that Donald Trump learns it sometime soon as well.


17 May 2017

Point of Order

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

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wish to raise a point of order under rule 7.3, “Order in the Chamber”. At 15:48 today, Douglas Ross MSP said in his speech,

“in my own area of Moray, we came closer than any part of Scotland to voting leave. Much of that vote came from the coastal communities—from Burghead ... to Cullen and everything in between.”

I note that rule 8.1.4 of the code of conduct for MSPs states:

“An MSP must not deal with a ... constituency issue outwith the member‘s constituency or region ... unless by prior agreement.”

As the constituency MSP for Cullen and many other coastal communities—but not quite as far as Burghead—I would like to indicate to you that I have not been approached by Douglas Ross for an agreement that he can raise a constituency issue relating to Cullen and other communities in my constituency, that area being in the region of North East Scotland, not the Highlands and Islands region that Mr Ross represents.

Furthermore, Presiding Officer, rule 8.1.5 states:

“Regional MSPs have a responsibility to all those in the region for which they were elected. It is important therefore that they recognise this ... and therefore work in more than two constituencies within their region.”

It might be that I have missed a reference by Douglas Ross to work in any constituency beyond Richard Lochhead’s Moray. Also, rule 8.2.2 says:

“Regional members must not”


“particular interest in ... only part of the region for which they were elected.”

Finally, rule 8.4.1 says:

“Any complaint against a member ... should in the first instance be made to the Presiding Officer.”

I note, however, that my potential actions are covered by rule 9.1.2, which says,

“Members must not disclose, communicate or discuss any complaint or intention to make a complaint to or with members of the press or other media”,

so I am making it only to members here.

Will the Presiding Officer advise whether he would see a letter of apology from Douglas Ross to me and the regional members who represent Cullen as sufficing to close the matter? Finally, perhaps in addition, will he advise Mr Ross that it would be inappropriate to make any media statement that suggests that he represents communities in my constituency in the light of his comments and participation in the fisheries debate today?


S5M-05603 Fisheries

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05603 on fisheries.

... ... ...

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

The industry of catching wild fish has been consistently let down by Tory policy and practice over the decades. The contrast with this SNP Government could not be more stark—then, as now. In paragraph 14a, a 1970s SNP policy leaflet talks about

“the right to impose an exclusive 100 mile limit”.

The only change that we have made has been to make it a 200-mile limit.

We are the only party to have consistently, always and invariably opposed the common fisheries policy. Donald Stewart, the then leader of the SNP, spoke in the House of Commons in 1983 against the common fisheries policy when it was a matter for debate. Alan McCartney wrote an excellent paper in the 1990s on the precise point that Finlay Carson addressed—regional control. The SNP has been engaged in those issues from the outset, and it remains engaged.

On 17 January I brought a members’ business debate to the chamber supporting the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s sea of opportunity campaign. The motion said, among other things, that it

“considers that full control over fishing in the offshore economic zone represents an opportunity to reinvigorate coastal communities”

Two Tory actions on that day showed them once again in all their ambivalence towards our fishermen: no Tory signed the motion supporting the campaign, and Tory Prime Minister May made a speech entitled “The government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU”. It contained only a single reference to fishing—a reference to Spanish fishermen. There was nothing about our fishermen and nothing about our fishing industries.

On 2 February, the Tories’ white paper stated at paragraph 8.16 that it is

“in both our interests to reach a mutually beneficial deal that works for the UK and the EU’s fishing communities.”

That is a signal in the most unambiguous language possible that there is a deal for fishermen from other jurisdictions: we are being sold out again. At six minutes and 27 seconds into his speech, Peter Chapman confirmed that it is Tory policy that foreign vessels will continue to fish in our waters. The clear opportunity that is available, as we leave the CFP, to reclaim fishing rights in our waters is being traded away again.

If an advantage is being denied to our fishermen, there is an even graver and more disadvantageous impact looming for our processors, much of which Rhoda Grant very eloquently articulated. I will simply quote from the UK Government’s Treasury analysis of 23 May 2016, which says, at paragraph 1.15, that

“businesses that trade with the EU would be uncertain about the UK’s access to the Single Market, not knowing what restrictions could be put on their ability to trade, including tariffs, customs costs or non-tariff barriers”.

Crucially, it goes on to say that

“those that currently benefit from EU funding would not know what support if any they would receive after the UK left ... This includes ... fishermen”.

That is important for small communities around Scotland. Just when we thought that we had escaped from the CFP, we will be hit by a Tory Government that trades away our advantage and sees trade and fiscal barriers erected. Ms Leadsom’s letter does not take any opportunity to rebut what has previously been said.

Finally, Boris Johnson wrote on 26 June 2016:

“The only change—and it will not come in any great rush—is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.”

That says nothing about leaving the single market.

Abandon isolation. It does not work.


11 May 2017

S5M-05515 Keeping Children Safe Online

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05515, in the name of Mark McDonald, on keeping children safe online.

... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): I do not know whether I should say this to you, Mr Stevenson, but I can be generous with the time available to you. I am sure that you will have an anecdote somewhere.

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

That is generous, and I will try not to abuse your trust. Two presiding officers have made that offer to me, so it would be impolite not to make use of it. [Laughter.]

When we go online, we are confronted with a series of risks. It is worth saying that I worked on my first online system in the 1960s, I sent my first email in 1980 and I first did my online banking using a public network in 1983. I have a long online history; others, similarly, will have a long online history, although mine might have begun even before some of the previous speakers were born. [Laughter.]

Daniel Johnson: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I will, yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I trust that your intervention is about Stewart Stevenson’s long history, Mr Johnson.

Daniel Johnson: It is, indeed, Presiding Officer. I was just wondering whether, given his recent remarks and in the context of Tavish Scott’s remarks about Socrates, Stewart Stevenson could confirm that he was, indeed, alive when Socrates was first consternated about writing. [Laughter.]

Stewart Stevenson: My great Uncle Socrates has said many wise things and we will continue to draw from the well of knowledge of the Greek—and Roman—philosophers. [Laughter.]

Let us return to matters more local and, in particular, the internet. Many of us will know nothing of the risks in going online; and, even if all the risks were explained to us, we might not understand what they are. New risks are being created—deliberately or accidentally—every single day.

One thing that I believe—I will return to this topic in more detail later—is that we should detect better those who are creating risks, so that we can hunt them down with the force of the law. For children, who are the focus of today’s debate, there are special risks. Being presented with material beyond their age carries with it the potential of psychological damage that could endure throughout their lives.

Children’s brains are plastic. The future operation of a child’s brain is more affected by present and past experience and knowledge than is an adult’s brain. Children have not yet acquired an adult set of critical faculties that enable the filtering out and discarding of inappropriate material. Comparatively, their brains lack the power to discriminate.

To oversimplify, probably, a complex piece of science, I should explain that until about puberty, many of our memories seem to be literal. We remember pictures and sounds—that is eidetic memory. As we become adults, our memory moves to an interpretive memory and we remember the meaning of our experience in preference to simply retaining a picture in our brain. That is much more convenient, because it enables us to create an index from which to retrieve information.

Just as we protect youngsters from physical danger, we need to protect them from psychological danger. What, therefore, are the particular dangers? As in the physical world, we want our young to avoid unsavoury characters who might exploit, abuse or otherwise harm them as individuals; we want them to avoid engagement with potentially corrupting material; and we want to protect their personal assets, however modest they may be.

As adults we—mostly—have the wherewithal to monitor and to guide, to a fair degree, a youngster’s contact with the world and the people in it. We understand the physical world pretty well. The focus of the plans that we are discussing today is on helping our children to access the internet safely. Doing so is both necessary and helpful, but the online story is highly complex and rapidly evolving.

There are about 4 billion people online and many more identities than that; multiple identities abound on the internet. The same will be true for most of us here, but anyone who chooses to interact with me on Twitter, where my handle is @zsstevens—I will repeat that in case members want to hear it again: @zsstevens—will see a little tick in a blue circle next to my name, which means that Twitter has verified that I am who I have said I am. That is quite important because, as far as Twitter is concerned, the ability to rely on that symbol removes a source of ambiguity of identity, which is what enables much—though not all—of the risk in the online world.

All responsible media providers need to make available similar identity-proved facilities. A certification system is already available for websites, the best of which are accessed via hypertext transfer protocol 1080, under which an S goes at the end of the “http” abbreviation and a lock appears that makes it clear that the website is certified. We now need robust and unbypassable software—perhaps required by law and perhaps enforced via ISPs at an appropriate point in the future—that can restrict communication only to verified online entities, in particular those that purport to be real people.

Let me give the chamber some international examples. Some 10 years ago, Estonia suffered the most extreme cyber attack from Russian-based hackers. The history of that is more than I have time to explain, but today the e-resident and other initiatives that this small Baltic state has put in place are transforming it into a world leader in creating a safe online world for citizens in their business lives. At €100 a pop, it remains too expensive for mass deployment to all—what I am holding up at the moment is a paper copy of an Estonian e-resident card; I have not spent €100 on one—but in the post-Brexit world, many UK citizens are looking at becoming Estonian e-residents, because of the advantages that it gives. Jamie Greene did not refer to this directly, but the system gives people the ability to electronically sign anything that is put on the internet, protecting the integrity of both the communication that is sent and those who receive it.

The Wired website describes Estonia as

“the most advanced digital society in the world”,

and other small nations that are our near neighbours—Macedonia, Serbia, Albania and Croatia—are carrying out legislative work in this area and are looking at electronic systems. They have something that appears to be a disadvantage but which, in this circumstance, is an advantage—namely, comparatively undeveloped infrastructures—and are leapfrogging present technologies into different futures.

We can look to India for another approach. In 2009, the Indian Government launched a massive project called Aadhaar to provide to everyone a digital identity based on an individual’s fingerprints and retina scans. As of 2016, the programme had issued 12-digit identification numbers to 1.1 billion people. It is believed to be the largest and most successful information technology project in the world and has created the foundations for a digital economy. Although it is voluntary, almost everyone from the totally illiterate to the billionaire banker wants to be part of it. Indeed, those involved in the system are currently running a competition for youngsters to produce 30-second videos that will support other youngsters in getting engaged with the internet and the Aadhaar system in an appropriate way.

By possessing unambiguous proof of identity and appropriate technology, Indian citizens can effect cashless transfer of value without banks, without central record and without worries. They can, for example, open bank accounts without the hassle that we have to go through, because they have an assured identity that they can use. Aadhaar is the kind of initiative that creates the potential for a safer online environment for adults and children alike.

The technology is already here so, although it just ain’t being implemented in this way, what could it make possible? For a start, every image, every text block, every blog—indeed, everything on the internet—could be marked incorruptibly and verifiably so that we would know which individual produced it. If we required that to be done, that would create for law enforcement the possibility of hunting down wrongdoers. We could require internet service providers, through which all internet traffic flows, to always check that they pass through to their subscribers only things that have been digitally signed. Of course, there are some difficulties with that. We would need anonymous hotlines as checks and balances on our system. Could that be dealt with? I will come back to that in a moment.

Software, verified identity and law can complement the plans in our Government’s paper. There is no time to waste. We could be world leaders, although others have got out of the starting blocks fairly easily. I am very happy to support the Government’s plan as it is.

Let me talk a little bit about how to deal with hotlines and whistleblowing.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I will give you a little bit more time. I feel that I am at a seminar, which is very interesting, but I want to give other people extra time.

Stewart Stevenson: I am nearly there, Presiding Officer.

One of the ways in which we could deal with the proper use of anonymity is, of course, to license a restricted number of services that can receive unsigned material. They would then have responsibility for looking at that material and republishing it with their signature, having verified that it is appropriate to do so. Therefore, even in a world in which we require everyone to have an identity, there are ways to protect the rights of those who properly need to be anonymous.

In my speech, I have simply tried to say that there are some things that we could do in the long term. I could certainly speak for hours on the subject, but the Presiding Officer’s generosity is much appreciated. Members should be aware that there are many simplifications in what I have said. If they really want a seminar, I shall be in the bar at 5 o’clock.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That is what I call using up extra time.


10 May 2017

S5M-05165 International Nurses Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05165, in the name of Emma Harper, on celebrating international nurses day on 12 May 2017. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises International Nurses Day 2017, which is celebrated around the world every year on 12 May; acknowledges that this date is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth; considers that Mary Seacole also contributed immensely to furthering the caring for ill and recuperating patients; understands that nurses are the single largest group of healthcare professionals in the UK; acknowledges that nursing encompasses the autonomous and collaborative care of individuals of all ages, families and communities in all settings, and includes the promotion of health, prevention of illness and care of people who are ill, disabled and who are dying; considers that advocacy, promotion of a safe environment, research, participation in shaping health policy and education are also key roles in nursing, and notes calls for everyone to mark International Nurses Day in some way, whether it be by sharing messages of support on social media, learning more about the hard work nurses do, or fundraising for a charity that supports nursing staff.

... ... ...

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

I thank Emma Harper for providing the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

The thing that I most noticed in Emma Harper’s motion was the name Mary Seacole, of whom I had not heard anything whatsoever in my life. I therefore very much welcomed the opportunity to investigate who she was and what she did with her life.

Like everyone else, I have a few nurses in my family. My father-in-law was a psychiatric nurse, as was my sister-in-law—both trained in Inverness in the 1950s. My Aunt Stewart—another Stewart Stevenson—and her sister Daisy registered as nurses in Bradford in 1925, my niece Susan is now a transplant co-ordinator in Queensland, Australia, and there is also my sister Mairi, of course.

Perhaps most critically from my point of view, I spent five months working as a nurse in Stratheden psychiatric hospital in 1964. Members may think that things are a bit difficult now, but we did a 108-hour fortnight—12 days on and two days off—for £6.50 a week. The staffing ratios were horrendous. One weekend when we were working double shifts, two of us looked after 32 physically ill psychiatric patients. That would just never happen now. Progress is therefore being made.

One important thing about nurses today that we should think about and support them for is that they are highly trained and have skills and knowledge that I, when I was a nurse in 1964, and all my antecedents, ancestors and relatives definitely did not have. Nurses are now trained to a level that is higher and more effective than my father was trained to as a general practitioner—he qualified in 1945 at the comparatively elderly age of 44.

My individual experience of nurses has been universally good. I have a campaign scar from being bitten by a dog during the Falkirk West by-election in 2000. It was a nurse who put the six stitches in my hand that allowed me to return to canvassing for our candidate—unsuccessfully; the nurse was therefore not that successful in repairing me. I spent five weeks in Bangour hospital some 30 years ago for a condition that I will not share with members, but which was one that none of them will wish to experience. I was not critically ill but was certainly in need of nursing. Therefore, in my personal life, I am grateful to nurses.

In modern times, of course, like many of my age group, I have a particular relationship with the Macmillan nurses, because one gets to an age when more of one’s friends and relatives are reaching the end of their lives. In particular, the work that the Macmillan nurses do in supporting people to end their lives with dignity and in comfort in their own homes is absolutely magnificent.

The motto “Nurses: A Voice to Lead” sounds to me absolutely spot-on. Nurses are important in primary care in a way that they did not used to be. I would rather see the practice nurse for most of the things that I would wish to go to my GP for. Fortunately, I do not even know the name of my GP—that is how infrequent a visitor I am, and I hope to remain in that position.

Some nurses are brave beyond the point of foolhardiness. My best man’s mother was a nurse, and she met her husband during the last world war in a hospital where he had been taken because he had been badly burned when his tank was blown up. Such was the personal charisma of that nurse that my best man’s father proposed to her and married her three weeks after meeting her. However, the real trick was that he was badly burned and bandaged from the neck upwards, and when she got married to him, she had not even seen his face. That is nursing bravery of the highest order, but I can tell members that it worked extremely well.

For me to end on a humorous note does not in any way diminish the very serious and valuable work that nurses throughout our health service do on behalf of us all. Let us hope that we never have to meet them, although we know that they are there when we need them.


09 May 2017

S5M-05423 Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill - Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05423, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

Before I start the main part of my speech, I want to pick up on a couple of things that have been said. It is strange that, in talking about nuclear trains, Liam Kerr seems to have been unaware of the role of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary—as opposed to the BTP—in that regard. Oliver Mundell—this is a more important and substantial point—said that there is one rail network in the UK, but he is wrong: there are two. The GB network is the one that is policed by the BTP, but it is one of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s responsibilities to police the railways in Northern Ireland. It polices the railways in the island of Ireland jointly with the Garda Síochána, which is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement. The safety arrangements and achievements in Ireland appear to be quite similar to those in the UK.

I want to say a word or two about what the BTP is. Its origins are very ancient. The first railway police were formed in 1826, three years before the Metropolitan Police. There have been many reforms in the nearly 200 years since the first railway police were established. The set of reforms that we are considering today is one in a long line of reforms and changes.

What is the BTP about? It is about providing a physical presence that is seen by passengers and staff on the rail network. That is probably the most important thing, but a key thing to remember is that hardly any of the public know that the officers concerned are not from Police Scotland—to members of the public, they are just police.

I can give an example from some years ago when, on my way to the station, I found some money lying in the street. I took it to the BTP at Waverley station and I was told that I had to go to a different police station to hand it in. That is just a little example from about 10 years ago so it is not necessarily current.

Like all police, the BTP also has to deal with offending. I heard from Douglas Ross that the amount of offending would overwhelm Police Scotland. However, the number of offences is less than—

Douglas Ross: On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am sure that Mr Stevenson does not want to mislead Parliament. He said that I told Parliament that the increases would overwhelm Police Scotland—

Stewart Stevenson: I am happy to acknowledge the substantive point that Douglas Ross made, if that is correct, as I am sure that he would not mislead me. However, the number of offences that are dealt with by the BTP is less than 10 per day and I am not sure that that will overwhelm the resources of Police Scotland. The number of recorded crimes is 5.5 per day—is that going to overwhelm the Police Scotland systems?

Besides dealing with offending, the BTP is there to deal with—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Minister and Mr Ross, you are both being very impolite to the speaker.

Stewart Stevenson: The other vital role of the BTP is the strategic role that is related to terrorism. In a UK Parliament committee session, DCC Hanstock said:

“In the hierarchy of risk, the biggest threat is terrorism. The challenge of protecting a network that is so wide and open, and the risk being so unpredictable, causes us the greatest level of concern”.

Let us think about interfaces. There are 45 territorial forces in the United Kingdom and there are three national forces—the BTP, the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. After the reform, what will the number be? Exactly the same. It is just that some of one will go to another. There will still be 45 plus three. The number of interfaces is 990—arithmetic—and there will still be 990 interfaces after the reform.

Does any of that matter? Ninety-five per cent of rail passenger journeys that are made in Scotland are wholly in Scotland so, at the moment, those passengers interface with a police force that is separate from the force that deals with all the other crime. With the reform, they will interface with the police force that deals with all crime and offences throughout Scotland, so we will dramatically reduce the number of interfaces that the public has to deal with.

Even if every police officer had a track access certificate, it would be unwise to rely on that. I have a motorcycle licence, but I have not been on a bike since 1969. It is legal for me to get on one tomorrow, but it would be very unwise to do so because I am out of practice. Police officers should only go on the railway line in the most extreme of circumstances, certificate or not. If a mother pushed her pram over a platform, I hope that I would shout to somebody to tell me whether a train was coming and jump to rescue them. I think that a police officer would do the same. However, it is important that the core role be in the hands of people who have a track access certificate.

Of 300-plus railway stations in Scotland, only a dozen have BTP officers present. The majority of railway stations in Scotland are covered by Police Scotland and that will continue.

Finally, I hear everything that my Labour colleagues have said, but they had better tell that to the Labour Mayor of London who wants to integrate the BTP into the Metropolitan Police. They are saying one thing in Scotland and we are hearing another thing in London.

I strongly support the bill and, Presiding Officer, I thank you for the six minutes.


02 May 2017

S5M-05245 Crofting Law Reform

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-05245, in the name of Edward Mountain on behalf of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, on its report on a review of priorities for crofting law reform.

... ... ...

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

Bu mhath leam taing a thoirt dha na clàrcan agus a h-uile duine eile airson dèanamh cinnteach gu bheil na pàirtean as cudromaiche den aithisg anns a’ Ghàidhlig, cànan a’ mhòr chuid de na sgìrean croitearachd.

For the Anglophones and those who cannot interpret my mispronounced Gaelic, I have just thanked our clerks and others for ensuring that key parts of the report have been rendered in the native language of most of our crofting areas—in Gaelic, in other words.

We should remember that the first act—the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886—required that one of the three commissioners could speak Gaelic and, recognising the legal complexities, that one of the commissioners be a Scottish advocate of at least 10 years’ standing.

Crofting law is, indeed, a complex area of law that draws on rural agricultural tradition, court cases, and many generations of parliamentary consideration and legislation. It is, to be frank, a pretty substantial guddle. We must not let the complexity and contentious nature of many of the issues in crofting be another reason for moving forward only by limiting the Government’s response to cherry-picking some of the easy bits. The sump report to which Jamie Greene and Rhoda Grant referred at least gives an opportunity for action in areas in which agreement is as complete as it is likely to be.

However, we also need some big-picture stuff. I will start with governance and oversight. My personal hand sits on the matter to an extent, because I was the minister who signed the Crofting Commission (Elections) (Scotland) Regulations 2011. Paragraph 7(5)(a) of schedule 1 to the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 proves that we can be radical. It provides for the election to the Crofting Commission of people who are aged 16 or over, and follows a similar provision in the Health Boards (Membership and Elections) (Scotland) Act 2009. We broke new ground in empowering 16 and 17-year-olds in that way. I do not believe that similar has been done in legislation anywhere else in the UK.

The fundamental question is this: what are members of the commission for? They are not there to manage the work of officials but are, absolutely, there to hold them to account and to set policy. In doing so, they are there to represent the collective interests of all crofters and people in crofting communities. It should not be a surprise that responsibility must extend beyond crofters; in fact, one does not even have to be a crofter to stand for election to the commission—albeit that a non-crofter must be nominated by a crofter.

Elected members are there because of votes in the six crofting constituencies, but it is vital that members of the commission reach collective decisions and then take them forward unanimously. It is not useful if members of the commission think that they are there simply to represent the area that elects them. That is a substantial challenge, but I hope that members of the commission will rise to it.

As other members have said, we must complete proper and accurate mapping of crofts and shared grazings. As Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I was party to a dispute about the boundary between crofting land and Benbecula airport. The diagram in the register of sasines was pretty small and the boundary line was marked with a Chinagraph pencil. When it was scaled up, the line was 100m wide, so we can begin to understand where the dispute came from. It was a recipe for argument.

We have also heard that we must simplify the administration of common grazings and create a better structure, and I support that.

The 1886 act recognised the rights of crofters—it opens on security of tenure—and brought to an end forced ejection of people from land that they had occupied for generations. It ended the clearances, but life on the croft remains somewhat precarious. I look forward to the Government’s planned legislation, and trust that the committee’s work will helpfully augment the Government’s and others’ research.


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