17 January 2018

S5M-09328 The Economic Potential of Robert Burns

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09328, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the economic potential of Robert Burns. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the contribution that Robert Burns continues to make to Scotland’s economic and cultural life; understands that business generated during the Burns season includes spending on food and drink, hospitality, accommodation, kilt hire, printing and merchandising; notes that the creative economy is boosted through arts events such as the Big Burns Supper Festival in Dumfries, which is the culmination of Scotland’s £390,000 Winter Festivals Programme; understands that year-round Burns-related tourism is on the increase thanks to Burns Scotland partner destinations such as the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ellisland Farm near Auldgirth, the Monument Centre in Kilmarnock and Burns House Museum in Mauchline, as well as numerous places around Scotland associated with the poet; notes that Burns the brand helps promote Scotland’s exports and trade links through Burns suppers around the globe, including through more than 250 member clubs of the Robert Burns World Federation; understands that Burns contributes to the success of Scotland’s higher education institutions, including the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, which encourages interest in the Bard through publications, seminar series, conferences, community and performance events, advice to exporters, research grant funding and international students and donor gifts, while providing strong strategic support to the National Burns Collection; understands that the last evaluation of Robert Burns’ economic impact on modern Scotland was completed in 2003 for the BBC by the World Bank economist, Lesley Campbell, who estimated that he generated £157 million each year for Scotland, and believes that this figure has grown exponentially since the research was carried out and that celebrations of the Bard’s birthday on 25 January will be an enriching experience in every sense of the word.

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

Like others, I thank Joan McAlpine for the opportunity to speak on this subject.

My new intern, Chase Lindemann, started with me yesterday, and as is often the case when I have a new intern, I set him the challenge of writing a speech for me. Chase has written tonight’s speech; he has come from the United States and he has not been to Scotland before, but it is an indication of the reach of Burns that, in a short space of time, Chase has produced an insightful and interesting speech on Robert Burns.

One of the things that Chase has identified is that Sophie Craig, a 16-year-old member of the Alloway Burns club in Ayr, has been given the opportunity to travel to Hungary to promote the works of Robert Burns. She will recite poetry and songs at the Corinthia hotel for more than 300 guests, hoping to raise money for sick and disadvantaged children in central Europe. The financial benefits of Robert Burns are more diverse than we, perhaps selfishly looking in our own mirror, have thought. Sophie is a young adult who is showcasing the power that Robert Burns’s poetry has to unite people from all walks of life.

A poem such as “To A Mouse” transcends socioeconomic status, allowing all and any to delight in the humorous comparisons and links between the lives of mice and men. The universality of his message makes it easy for Burns’s poetry to reach non-Scottish ears. His poems permeate the minds of people across the planet, and haggis and whisky have spread likewise, introducing more people to Scottish culture and cuisine.

Well done to the Parliament’s canteen for providing the haggis today. Alas, there was no whisky, but ho hum, there we are.

Between 2011 and 2015, we exported £4.85 million-worth of haggis to 28 different countries. Whisky, of course, has also enjoyed an increase in exports. In 2013, 1.3 billion bottles, worth £4.37 billion, were exported.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): It is my understanding that the Scottish Government has secured access to the American market for haggis. Can the member confirm that that is correct?

Stewart Stevenson: A whisper from the front bench tells me that it might be Canada; the States may still be off. I am prepared to be corrected if necessary, but I think that there are now some quite good vegetarian haggises and I believe that some of them are going to the States. I hope that the real thing will follow quite soon.

Tourism is also an important part of our economy, and Burns is an important part of why people come here, as well as the tartan, the bagpipes, the whisky tours and, of course, our history, of which Burns is an important part. I thank Robert Burns for creating the opportunity and helping us with that.

Burns’s poetry covers a wide range of themes, from quite short poems to narrative tales of wonderful complexity and interest. His use of the Scots language has helped to introduce 20 million Scots Americans to the language of their ancestry.

I note that Kenneth Gibson today circulated a motion asking us to rename Glasgow Prestwick airport as the Robert Burns international airport. I am sure that John Scott will be on the case, and it will be a good thing for Prestwick and for Burns.

Burns clubs do not exist only as a means of cherishing the life and poetry of Robert Burns. They encourage the young to take an interest in the poet and poetry, songs and competitions in general. Clubs are an avenue for people of all social classes. On 25 January, people in Atlanta, Georgia, in Budapest, and all the way down to Bendigo in Australia will celebrate the birth of our bard. Members of international Burns clubs will join millions of Scots by partaking in an evening of haggis, whisky and poetry recital.

For my part, I look forward to visiting the Deputy Presiding Officer’s constituency with my colleague Ruth Maguire. I am sure that you will lay out the red carpet for us as we come to speak on Burns.

My favourite place to have spoken at a Burns supper—and the most prestigious—was the British embassy in Paris, which is the most wonderful building. I have also spoken in the United States and elsewhere.

The “Heaven-taught ploughman” has given us enormous value and, before I sit down, I cannot help reminding members that the Burns family came from the north-east of Scotland.


11 January 2018

S5M-09821 Developing the Young Workforce

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Good afternoon. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09821, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on developing the young workforce: review of progress at the midpoint of the seven-year programme.

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

In relation to today’s topic, I draw members’ attention to my being a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery, a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, all of which have an interest in the education of young people.

In relation to my life experience, I am largely an autodidact, which is a bit inconvenient because it means that I have no one to blame but myself for any shortcomings in my knowledge and understanding of the world. I have, however, re-engaged with education in recent times. Since I stopped being a minister in 2012, I have managed to find time to do an online postgraduate certificate at the University of Strathclyde. The reason why I raise that is that it illustrates the new ways in which education can be done. It was an online course, so I could choose at what time of day I did the study. I could choose exactly when I was going to complete exercises. If I came in bleary-eyed in the morning, that might have been some of the reason why.

That leads me to a much broader issue that we have not mentioned, that of self-paced learning, which is enabled by the development of online computer training. Particularly for people who have other responsibilities, such as childcare or caring for parents, it is of value to be able to choose the pace at which they move through an education system. That applies particularly to people who find even the present quite flexible approaches still too restrictive. As technology improves and develops, there is great scope for us to look at further opportunities in that area.

In that regard, I encourage the Government and others to think about where people get access to the technology. The people who we want to bring into the system are often those who have least access. That means having computer terminals in libraries and other public spaces and perhaps in voluntary sector places. Equally, we need the people who are there to be able to provide at least the basics of support and give a bit of direction to those who find themselves in difficulties.

I will move on to a more general issue, under the heading “Achieving the impossible”. One of the great things that our youngsters do is to achieve the impossible. Old lags like myself and others in the chamber might consider something beyond contemplation, but our youngsters do not know that it is impossible and they achieve it. I may have used this example before but, when I was a minister, we had only £12 million to do a wee bit of electrification of the railway network, when all the officials said that it would cost £27 million and could not be done for a penny less. Eventually, they got fed up and gave it to an engineering graduate apprentice, who worked out how to do it for £12 million, because he did not know that the project was impossible. He did it on the very simple basis that a bit of the overhead wires could have no power in it as the wires went under a bridge, so the bridge did not have to be jacked up and the railway did not have to be taken down, and that got the project in at £12 million instead of £27 million. There is huge potential in our youngsters and other people in the system and it is at our peril that we talk them out of tackling the impossible and succeeding.

We have talked a little about maths. The most expert mathematicians I ever see are people who do not regard themselves as doing any maths at all. Liz Smith talked about arithmetic. I was in the cohort who sat the very first ordinary grade arithmetic exam in 1962. I must say that I found it rather simple, although I am sure that others found value in it. The people who use maths without knowing it are the guys—sorry, but it is mostly guys—who stand around in the bookies with a wee pencil behind their ear, working out five-horse accumulators with complex odds and instantly saying how much money they will win if it all comes good. I cannot do that, and I have a degree in mathematics. People will not be persuaded to use or to acquire those kinds of skills if we do not persuade them to do so.

Elaine Smith: Surely the huge potential of our young people that Stewart Stevenson mentioned will not be realised with insecure work and low pay.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is absolutely correct. For some people, who choose things such as zero-hours contracts so that they work when it suits them, they are fine. However, we can all condemn exploitative zero-hours contracts that are controlled by employers. I will just leave that little thought there.

I very much welcome the support that there has been for people in rural areas such as Aberdeenshire and Moray, but we have a wee bit more to think about. Those who have to attend classes sometimes still have quite an issue with how to get to college. The bus services in the north-east have been retuned, which is generally quite helpful.

Finally, I want to say three things. First, people need to learn a systematic approach as part of their life skills, and that means actively learning about time management. Secondly, they need to learn how to develop and apply analytical skills. Finally—this is a hobby-horse of mine, because I lectured postgraduates on the subject for a couple of years—they need to learn project management skills. That applies to almost every area of life and work, but I have not heard it specifically referred to.


10 January 2018

S5M-09828 Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09828, in the name of Adam Tomkins, on Holocaust memorial day 2018. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 27 January 2018 marks Holocaust Memorial Day; believes that the day serves as an opportunity for learning institutions, faith groups and communities across Scotland, including in Glasgow, to remember the six million men, women and children murdered by the Nazi regime in occupied Europe; notes that the theme of the 2018 memorial day is the Power of Words; understands that this theme aims to look at how words can make a difference, both for good and evil; values the Holocaust Education Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, which gives two post-16 students from every school and college in Scotland the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau; celebrates the Holocaust survivors who subsequently made Scotland their home; thanks them for their contribution to Scotland as a nation, and acknowledges the view that anti-Semitism in all its forms should be challenged without fear or favour.

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

I, like others, thank Adam Tomkins for creating the opportunity to have this evening’s debate—I have previously participated in similar ones.

It is as well to remember that the Holocaust was not a single event but the aggregation of millions of decisions to execute millions of people who had committed no crime.

The world’s legal systems have worked over the decades since 1945 to deliver justice for the missing millions, their families and friends, but that on its own cannot be enough. We cannot undo the injustice done by the Nazis. We cannot restore life and liberty to those from whom such basic rights were removed by the Nazis. We simply cannot reset the world that the Nazis destroyed.

However, we can remember those whom we lost to the Holocaust. I have the tiniest of personal connections with the events. The last sentences passed at the Nuremberg trials were passed on 30 September and 1 October 1946, and those who were found guilty were due to be hanged on 16 October, which was my first full day on this planet. Indeed, Hermann Göring beat the hangman by committing suicide on 15 October, the very day that I emerged from my mother’s womb.

We have to use the example of the Holocaust to remind our contemporaries of the injustices that came from it and to educate new generations about the dangers of demagoguery designed to characterise ethnic or religious difference as somehow less worthy. The theme of Holocaust memorial day 2018, which is the power of words, is a fine choice, because it was words that created the Holocaust—when Adolf Hitler sat in prison writing “Mein Kampf”, he wrote the words that would lead to the Holocaust. We can, to some extent, prevent a repetition with our words and the words of others.

Words can lead to action, which can be good or bad. Adam Tomkins reminded us that our business as politicians depends on words, and the meanings that we ascribe to them and the use to which we put them are important. Our most important words might be those that we deploy when we defend those with views with which we disagree and when we defend their right to be different from us. Democracy depends on diversity, and so does society’s future.

Those who lost their lives in the Holocaust were not an undifferentiated group. Each was an individual of worth. Each had individual views and potential. Each could disagree with his or her neighbour, as we do with each other in this place.

My personal visits to Auschwitz thus far have been vicarious. The good work of the Holocaust Educational Trust features regularly in the media. The trust was founded in 1988, and its good work in taking school students to the site is highly valued by those who participate in its programme. The most important visit that I have made to Auschwitz was via the television series, “The Ascent of Man”, which was written and presented by Jacob Bronowski and broadcast in 1973, a year before he died.

Bronowski was born in 1908 into a Jewish family at Łódź, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Auschwitz. Forty-five years on, the profound effect of seeing him at Auschwitz, walking slowly towards the camera, pausing, leaning down to scoop mud into his hand from a puddle, then looking at the mud and saying in a quiet voice, “This is my family,” remains with me and will never leave me. Personal experience speaks directly in a way that our debate today—worthy and necessary as it is—simply cannot match. That is why each generation must relearn the lessons of Nazi bigotry. That is why visits can communicate and embed by experience the message of history in students who are supported by the trust. That is vital, if we believe that this should never, ever happen again—and we do.


09 January 2018

S5M-09732 Article 50 Withdrawal Process

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09732, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee’s inquiry into the article 50 withdrawal process.

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

I wish a happy new year to all my colleagues in the chamber except for Tavish Scott, who will shortly celebrate new year with his constituents at Up Helly Aa, rather than celebrate it conventionally, on 1 January.

My constituents are exceptional, too, as, perhaps more than others elsewhere, they are taking a keen interest in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. That is because they, rather differently from most people in Scotland, can see a local benefit from our doing so. That benefit is from our exploitation of our escape from the common fisheries policy and the regaining of control over fishing opportunities in our waters out to 200 miles.

I referred to my opposition to the common fisheries policy in my first speech in Parliament in 2001, which was made on the day following my first swearing in, and members have heard me speak on that subject on many occasions since.

We only gain meaningful benefit from being outside the CFP if the exit negotiations deliver certain other matters of importance to our fish-catching sector. Catching more fish means little if we lose the opportunity to add value to an increased weight of fish through increasing our processing activity. Yes, skippers would be able to land the increased amount of fish directly to European Economic Area ports, which would probably mean Norway, and thereby make a gain. However, the bigger prize—and the bigger industry right now—is onshore, on our shores. It can flourish, and the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, but it needs fair and, essentially, timely access to export markets. Some products, such as the Cullen skink Scotch pie that I sent to David Davis for Christmas, are products that are designed for delivery by time-variable means such as the post. I hope that he enjoyed the pie as much I enjoyed one for my lunch on the same day. Other products, such our world-famous langoustines, halve in value if they arrive even four hours late.

Tariff barriers are currently less critical with the fall in the value of the pound, but if the pound recovers its previous exchange rate, they might again be an important matter. Access to market is what matters, yet we see no sign that that has a high-enough priority in the negotiations.

We have greater, if substantially less than full, clarity on migration. Our fish processing industry’s future depends on people from many nations coming and, crucially, being able to settle here. About half of the migrants who have come to the north-east in recent years have made a permanent relocation. It is not simply seasonal recruitment, but permanent employment. Alasdair Allan’s evidence to the committee suggested that 46 per cent of people in fish processing in the UK are EEA nationals, and we know that 70 per cent of workers in north-east fish processors have been migrants. They add huge value to the local and national economies, particularly in the north-east, which is an area of high employment where recruitment has long been difficult. They also enrich and strengthen our culture, substantial as it already is.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, told members that the UK minister Michael Gove has a sympathetic ear to the issues around fishing and fish processing, and Mr Gove’s connections to the north-east of Scotland underpin his understanding. However, for the UK, the industry is a very minor part of the economy, and I share the concern of others that it will end up as a bargaining chip and that benefits that we expect will be traded away.

I listened with great interest to Jackson Carlaw, who is in soft focus for me today because I do not have my glasses—I have no migraine but no glasses. However, the secrecy, the exclusion of the devolved nations’ Governments and Parliaments from the development of post-Brexit policy and rules, and their exclusion from the negotiation itself feed a paranoia, justified or not, about possible outcomes. It also has the practical effect of reducing the resource that can be applied to the shared interests of all the nations of the UK—for clarity, I include England when I say that—in what is the greatest challenge to our future in my lifetime. I am pleased to note the consensus that has been referred to already that we cannot yet—I repeat, yet—give our consent as a Parliament to the UK Brexit bill.

However, the prospect of cutting off migration is the one that is worrying me most. Historically, the Scots are probably the greatest migrants in the world. The cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk each have areas in them called Nowa Szkocja, or New Scotland, which is a testament to our outward migration in the late 1600s. Indeed, a Scot was the mayor of Warsaw on four occasions. The 2011 census says that there are 55,000 Poles in Scotland. They are our largest immigrant group.

Countries around the world would not exist in their present form without our citizens; Canada is the most obvious example. In my own family, as in others, it continues. A niece, born in Edinburgh, is now a Swedish citizen because of Brexit. Her brother will shortly be a Dane.

Leaving the EU and thus leaving the common fisheries policy, while remaining in the single market and retaining free movement of people, ticks most of the boxes for most of my constituents, as it does for Scotland as a whole and as it will do for all the nations of the UK.


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