28 November 2018

S5M-14782 Bank of Scotland (Branch Closures)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14782, in the name of Sandra White, on planned Bank of Scotland branch closures. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns the Bank of Scotland’s intention to close seven branches across the country; understands that thousands of Bank of Scotland customers who depend on branches in Burnside, Dundee, Keith, Kirriemuir, Lossiemouth, Paisley, Stonehouse and Glasgow St George’s Cross in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency will be negatively affected by the closures; considers that there is a need for a continued face-to-face banking service in local communities for those who remain reliant on high street branches, and believes that national banks have a duty to fully consult their customers before making such critical decisions.

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

This is one of those occasions when I feel grateful that I am more than a sword’s length from any of my colleagues in the chamber, as I declare that I am a shareholder in the Bank of Scotland—of course, as a result of my 30 years of employment, which ceased nearly 20 years ago.

I start with a few facts about what is going on. The Scottish Parliament information centre tells us that a third of bank branches in Scotland closed in the past 10 years. Which? found that 78 per cent of consumers in the two lowest-income household groups rely on cash—indeed, 26 per cent of respondents in those groups said that they never use card payments—and that 80 per cent of over-65s rely on cash. Research by Reuters showed that 90 per cent of the bank branch closures in the past year occurred in areas where the median household income is below the national average.

Those statistics tell us that bank branch closures are adversely affecting the people who are least able to cope with them. Branch closure is a socially discriminatory activity, and we will all pay the price if it continues at the current rate.

ATMs are closing across the UK at a rate of 250 a month. I make a little observation about ATMs in Scotland: they should not be closing as fast. Because the Scottish banks issue their own bank notes, they can fill cash dispensers at no cost, beyond the cost of printing the money, whereas in England the banks have to pay a pound for every pound that they put in the cash dispenser. It is much cheaper to run ATMs in Scotland, so we should not see the same rate of closure. Scottish banks pay later when the cash is paid out. Typically, there will be £40,000 in a cash dispenser.

Banking is a simple business, although the bankers make it look difficult. Banks take money in and then they reward the people who deposit the money; they lend money out and they charge people. A transaction system sits in the middle. To make banking work, they just need to get the two sides of the equation to work.

Why did bank branches develop in the way that they did? The answer is that, typically, people deposited money in the rural branches; in the city branches, the banks lent the money out. That was the traditional banking model—in particular, for the Trustee Savings Bank—in which the banks funded the lending from their depositors. That was a safe model for banking. One of the contributing factors to the bank crash in 2008 was that banks had increasingly gone to the wholesale markets to get money and that they had moved away from keeping the two sides of banking in balance. That didnae help.

In my previous constituency—before the boundaries were changed in 2011—the Clydesdale Bank announced that it was going to shut the branch in New Deer. That community of some 600 people was outraged by the announcement. Those people got together and bought the bank branch. They then persuaded the Royal Bank of Scotland to move in and run the bank branch. It is still there today in the face of all the closures. That was largely down to a dear and now departed colleague, Councillor Norma Thomson; she was one of a range of people in the community who were involved. My point is that there is potential scope for community action and making banks responsive to the communities in which they operate.

A particular example of the risk that banks take in disconnecting themselves from communities comes from South Africa in the early 1990s. In the townships of Soweto, Khayelitsha and elsewhere, people who had informally built their houses wanted to regularise their position and engage in the formal banking system. The traditional banks would have nothing to do with those people, because of their situation. Subsequently, the people set up their own banks and deserted the traditional banks. That is what could happen to the traditional banks here—Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Today, the population of Soweto is 1.27 million people; therefore, it is not a trivial matter that those people deserted the traditional banks and took their banking fates into their own hands. The same sort of thing could happen in Scotland. Those so-called commercial decisions can ultimately be to the commercial disinterest of the organisations that are devastating so many communities—particularly those that are most affected by the closure of banks, because they are the communities that already have least in our society.


21 November 2018

S5M-14822 Scottish Crown Estate Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14822, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Scottish Crown Estate Bill.

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

The cabinet secretary has said that this is the first time that we have legislated on the Crown Estate. I am sure that that is true, but it is certainly not the first time that we have debated the issue. As Tavish Scott has just reminded us, he had a members’ business debate on the matter on 1 November 2007, as had David Stewart on 18 April 2012. There will be other instances—I have the 2012 debate on file, simply because I happened to be the minister who responded to it. This is therefore not a subject that we have not debated or discussed before on the floor of the chamber or in the corridors of Parliament.

Andy Wightman took us back to the 900s in his speech. I had not realised that the matter went quite that far back; I found the Auditor of the Exchequer in Scotland, which was established as a court in the 1500s to look after what is now the Crown estate. There is a very long history to this.

With regard to the bill, which we are likely to pass soon, one section that has not attracted any significant amendment—it was amended a little bit at stage 2—is section 11, which sets out the duty to obtain market value. It picks up existing provisions in saying:

“The manager of a Scottish Crown Estate asset must not make any of the following transactions ... for consideration of less than market value”

but goes on to qualify that by making it clear that a manager can consider less than market value if they are

“satisfied that the relevant transaction is likely to contribute to the promotion or the improvement in Scotland of ... economic development, ... regeneration, ... social wellbeing, ... environmental wellbeing, ... sustainable development.”

Frankly, that is a breakthrough provision, because it recognises that these assets, which we are managing or allowing others to manage, should be managed for the common good, not simply to deliver an economic asset that flows into the structures of government at its various levels. I am particularly pleased with that section of the bill, although I would also highlight the duty in section 7 to maintain and enhance value.

The Crown Estate has a long history. I have been here a fair while—although not as long as everybody; John Scott, who is sitting looking around the chamber, was here before me, as was Tavish Scott—but I do not think that we can really say that in the Parliament’s earlier days the Crown Estate engaged with the members of this place to very useful purpose. In a long-standing constituency case, I had to persuade it to do something about a harbour at Crovie. It took something like five or six years before we finally concluded that that matter was actually its responsibility—and a good deal longer before it actually did anything about it.

If anything, the Crown Estate was passively malign or passively neglectful. It was slightly better than other people—

John Scott
: I object to the member’s use of the word “malign”. I objected to Mr Wightman’s use of the word, too, when he described the Crown estate managers hitherto, who were doing their jobs as they best saw fit and within the confines of the law. I know many of these people directly—I declare that interest—and they are men and women of honour. I particularly object to the use of the word “malign” in that regard and in respect of those individuals.

I am sorry to be awkward about it again, but I have already raised the point with Mr Wightman and I am annoyed that I need to raise it again.

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Scott is perfectly entitled to make the point. However, I was pointing at the organisation, rather than the individuals, with whom I have always had the best of relationships; I have felt, as Mr Scott does, that as individuals they were doing their best. The framework that constrained them did not allow them to do anything other, in many instances, than to act in a way that one could describe as malign. However, let us not fall out about a single word—it is simply not worth the hassle.

There were private landowners around Scotland who were much worse. We used to go on holiday to Sutherland and the Vesteys, who were domiciled in Argentina, never paid a penny in tax in decades and were much more adverse in the way that they dealt with things.

I realise that I must conclude. The bill is part of returning power to our communities. In David Stewart’s debate in April 2012, we all talked about Peter Peacock and Community Land Scotland, and of transfers that were made. This is part of a process of restoring to the people of Scotland some of the assets that are rightly theirs and the control over them. We have not completed the journey, but the bill is a useful and helpful start.


20 November 2018

S5M-14466 Offshore Wind Week 2018

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14466, in the name of Lewis Macdonald, on offshore wind week 2018.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the contribution that Scotland has made to offshore wind since planning permission was granted in 2003 for the development of Scotland’s first offshore wind farm, Robin Rigg, in the Solway Firth; considers that Scotland has benefited from many other offshore wind projects in recent years, including Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay, which has been built with the support of EU funding to create and test new offshore wind technologies, Hywind Scotland, a floating wind farm developed by Equinor off Peterhead, which started power generation in October 2017, and the Kincardine Offshore Floating Wind Farm off the coast of Stonehaven, which is expected to be the largest floating wind farm in the world when it is completed in 2020; understands that the contributions made by these and other projects will be recognised and celebrated during Offshore Wind Week 2018, which runs from 19 to 23 November and is an annual event supported by Scottish Renewables; notes the hope that a pipeline of successful projects can be secured in future leasing rounds by ensuring an adequate provision of shallow and deep water sites; further notes the view that government at all levels needs to support the offshore wind sector to ensure that its success continues, particularly beyond 2030, and looks forward to more offshore wind farms being developed in the coming years, contributing to Scotland’s energy mix.

... ... ...

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

I start by declaring that I am a shareholder in SSE and in the Boyndie Wind Farm Co-op, which is a wind farm close to where I stay.

This is an excellent opportunity—thanks to Lewis Macdonald—to celebrate offshore wind week 2018 and the contribution that offshore wind makes to our economy, employment in local communities and of course the climate change agenda. It was only a couple of years ago that the then President of the French Republic, François Hollande, offered his plea that we work together against climate change:

“The time is past when humankind thought it could selfishly draw on exhaustible resources. We know now the world is not a commodity”.

With Scotland, as we have heard, being the windiest place in Europe, we have something that shows no sign of being an exhaustible resource. The development of offshore wind has been a terrific contribution to the climate change agenda.

I have two wind farms near where I stay. I only have to go a few hundred metres to the east and at night I can look out over the Moray Firth and see the Beatrice wind turbines that were put up as the first offshore wind trial in the area. More significant, though, is the Hywind Scotland offshore development, floating off Peterhead, which has been referred to by a number of members and in the motion. The development is truly groundbreaking, water-breaking technology, and it opens the door to deployment of that technology in shallow coastal areas around the world.

Offshore wind is not particularly new. There has been a wind farm next to the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden for a considerable period. However, the Hywind technology and the technologies that we are seeing developed off our coasts are much higher capacity and have much higher outputs, partly because of developments in China and the use of rare earths in new magnets to increase what can come from ahead.

In the past couple of weeks, I visited a firm in Peterhead called Survitec, which is one of many firms that are developing new technologies. Flashover fires can happen in a matter of seconds, so Survitec has developed a rapid-escape technology for people who are at the top of a wind turbine. I wish the company extremely well—it certainly deserves to get wide market acceptance. However, it will not be alone in exploiting the opportunities that come from having such sources of offshore wind close to some of our communities. Service vessels will go out to service them, and a number of the harbours in my constituency—Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Buckie—look forward to opportunities to service wind farms. I understand that in Caithness, Wick will look to get its share of the business. We will see how that develops, because healthy competition between harbours is not at all a bad thing.

The First Minister visited the Hywind wind farm pilot project, which underlines the potential of Scotland’s huge offshore wind resource. Right at the top of Government it is recognised how important offshore wind is. I wish it well and repeat my thanks to Lewis Macdonald for providing the opportunity to congratulate everyone who is involved in offshore wind and, more to the point, those who will be in the future.


S5M-14807 Digital Industries

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14807, in the name of Kate Forbes, on developing Scotland’s digital industries for our economic future.

... ... ...

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

I will start by declaring that I am a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce and a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery. As far as history is concerned, the Association for Computing Machinery is perhaps the most important of those organisations, because at a meeting of the ACM on 9 December 1968, Douglas Engelbart demonstrated a system that, as well as having windows, hypertext, graphics and videoconferencing, showed the first mouse in action. There is a video of that demonstration that can be viewed on the internet.

The Government’s motion talks about the need to harness the public sector and the private sector, so it is worth revisiting the history of how we got here. The public sector played a very important part in the digital developments that we benefit from today. Tommy Flowers, who was an engineer at the Post Office’s Dollis Hill laboratory during the second world war, used his own money to develop the first electronic computer. He scrounged a huge number of electronic valves and produced a computer for use at Bletchley Park, against the recommendation of the person who was running the place. In doing so, he contributed enormously to the war effort. The commercial company that was J Lyons and Co tea shops produced the first commercial computer, which ran its first transactions in 1951. The history that is encompassed by the motion has involved the public and the private sectors working together on a long-standing basis.

Digital ways of expressing data have been around for a very long time. It was Leibniz who, in 1679, came up with the binary system, and it was George Boole who, in 1847, introduced Boolean algebra, which underlies much of the work in this area. The first digital electronic circuit was installed in Edinburgh in 1868—it was a telegraph circuit that connected the Bank of Scotland’s head office in Edinburgh to its office in London. Incidentally, the bank installed its first telephone in 1881; the board said that that could be done only on the strict understanding that it would not be used to conduct business.

I hope that the line of the Government’s motion that says that

“a combined focus by government, the wider public sector and private sector is the most effective way of improving the digital capabilities”

is relevant to some of the remarks that I have made so far.

However, let us move on to today and the important things that we must do to deliver the modern world in which everyone can benefit from the adoption of digital technologies.

We know that about 2 per cent of our workforce are employed in the digital economy. We heard from James Kelly about the gender discrepancy that exists in the industry. Although he was right to say that, it is interesting that when I started in it in 1969, the balance was more or less 50:50. What seems to have happened is that, when the BBC Micro computer was launched in 1981, parents gave it to the sons in the family. We can see from the graph that, a couple of years after that, the gender bias moved dramatically towards men. Sometimes there are cultural issues at play, as well as Government policies. However, women will be very welcome in the industry, and I hope that they will join the more than 60,000 people who are working in computing in Scotland today.

The important thing is to get the infrastructure in place. However, Mike Rumbles wants us to cut the Government’s implementation period for the R100 programme from 549 days to 334 days—the delivery schedule that Mike Rumbles wants. That would be quite a substantial downdrop. We cannot simply squeeze projects into smaller spaces, without taking risks. The non-commutativity of time and effort applies to the project.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will just finish this wee bit, then I will take an intervention.

If it takes six hours for a gravedigger to dig a grave, that does not mean that six gravediggers can do it in one hour.

Edward Mountain: I am somewhat confused. It was quite clear in the Government’s programme that R100 would be delivered by the next election. That is what the Scottish National Party stood on at the most recent election. In fact, that is what the First Minister was saying until January this year. It was not until Fergus Ewing changed his position, which happened in about March, that the First Minister changed her position, which was in about July, if I remember rightly. I think that people in Scotland are expecting R100 to be rolled out by May 2021, as we were originally promised. I do not understand what the obfuscation is about. Perhaps Stewart Stevenson can explain it to me.

Stewart Stevenson: Edward Mountain should consider that it is better to set a realistic timescale in the light—

Mike Rumbles: You were elected based on it.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that colleagues will forgive me: I am not rebutting a single word that Edward Mountain said about previous intentions. I am making the substantial point that rolling out to the last 5 per cent is a huge programme to undertake and we need the right amount of time to get it right. Any Government that fails to deliver on a project that it has set out will quite properly find itself in a difficult position.

Presiding Officer, you have generously given me a little time back, but I will not overegg the pudding. There are 120,000 or so homes in Scotland to which we must deliver R100, but it has correctly been said that the infrastructure of communication is merely the scaffolding upon which we can build the propositions that deliver value. Getting people who are not digitally capable up to a different place in society through libraries, public spaces and the education system, and converting private and Government business to digital delivery are also part of what we must do.

I look forward to my superfast broadband being delivered by fibre. If the last 5 per cent is by fibre—as, I guess, it will be—we will be ahead of the cities for the first time. Fingers crossed.


15 November 2018

S5M-14749 Physical Activity, Diet and Healthy Weight

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14749, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on physical activity, diet and healthy weight. I call Joe FitzPatrick to move the motion and speak to it for up to—and no more than—13 minutes.

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

I very much welcome the fact that Philip Sim is watching the debate, because I know how much he enjoys my contributions. I say to Bruce Crawford that, in 1945, the ration for cheese was 2 ounces a week, so there would be little prospect of having macaroni cheese very often. Indeed, research that was done in 1939, at the beginning of the war, showed that one could live and thrive on 1 pound of meat a week, a quarter of a pint of milk a day, 4 ounces of margarine and as much potatoes, vegetables and bread as one could eat.

That is all that people need to survive, although the experiment reported that there was a substantial increase in flatulence. Speaking of which, I will give way to David Stewart.

David Stewart: What was the member’s experience of living through the Boer war?

Stewart Stevenson: I am never bored by any debate on the subject of food.

Realistically, for many of us, food has become a hobby rather than a way of living our lives. I am a little older than every other member in the chamber at the moment, apart from one. I see that members are looking the wrong way—he is over there on the Conservative benches. I remember the ending of sugar rationing in February 1953, when I was six years old. The ration for sweeties at that point was 11g a day. To translate that into something meaningful in today’s terms, that means that people could have in total one Mars bar every five days and nothing more—that was it. The sugar content of the 1953 ration was the equivalent of one can of Coke every three days.

We were actually a great deal healthier when our food intake was controlled by the state. I do not advocate a return to that, but that illustrates how much of our food intake is optional or voluntary and unnecessary. I and others of my generation probably have less of a sweet tooth, and I hope that that is reflected in my health. I am about a kilogram over the weight that I should be, although I am working on it. My heartbeat and respiration rate are okay. I had my blood pressure tested here in the Parliament just last week, and I am within the acceptable limits—I am below 140 and the difference between systolic and diastolic is about 60. However, that is not true of everybody in our society, and people suffer because of that.

On exercise, we do not all have to be Brian Whittle, who is a world-class athlete. I am nowhere near that, and I have never been near his historic achievements, but at least I and all of us can walk in our normal days. My watch tells me that I have walked 2.5 miles today. From looking at my diary, I expect to do about 4.5 miles tomorrow. I normally walk around 20 to 30 miles a week, just simply doing my normal business and avoiding taking taxis. That is a great help to my personal physical and mental wellbeing. Walking is a great activity to undertake if we want to think through the issues that we have.

Diabetes is one major consequence of our being overweight. To again return to the period after the war, type 2 diabetes in particular barely existed then, and type 1 was uncommon. However, we need to be cautious about that, because the diagnostic tools were pretty poor, so I suspect that there was a huge amount of undiagnosed diabetes. According to my father, basically it was diagnosed by smelling acetone on the patient’s breath. However, by the time that that could be done, people were severely diabetic and their life was at severe risk.

Sport in schools is not what it used to be. I went to a very large school and on the peak day, a Saturday, a grand total of 490 pupils would participate in competitive sport in the rugby, football, hockey and cross-country teams. That is not the case today. The restoration of sport in our schools would definitely help.

I very much welcome the debate and the focus on being healthy, taking exercise and good food.


13 November 2018

S5M-14704 Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-14704, in the name of Maree Todd, on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

My arithmetic says that I have about 17 minutes, Presiding Officer, but I am sure that you will haul me up at the appropriate point.

It is as well to think about how children develop. I am not a dad, so I have not personally been through this, but psychologists give us a guideline. Before coming to that, I will mention a GIRFEC conference at which I spoke on behalf of the then Minister for Children and Early Years, Adam Ingram, as he was not at the right location. Immediately before I spoke, a wonderful film of a one-hour-old child was shown. Music was being played to the child, who waved its arms in time to the beat. When the music stopped, the child stopped waving its arms; when the music started again, it waved its arms. In other words, children start to interact with their environment from the very point of birth—perhaps even before. Psychologists say that in the first year we recognise human faces; in year three, we start to acknowledge the past to interpret present events; at year seven, we start to tell jokes—some people have not moved on from that stage—and at 11, we start to be more conscious of our moral code. However, our personal development is varied and it is unique to us.

Children who have been raised in less than ideal conditions—as a result of poverty, missing parents or other circumstances—may well have developed at a much slower rate. I agree with members in many parts of the chamber who have said that, whatever their maturity, prison is no place for a child. That is why our children’s hearings system is a beacon to the world as to how we should treat those who are in difficulties. As an MSP, I have had the great privilege of being able to sit in on a children’s hearing; I cannot of course tell members anything about the detail of what went on, but the key point is that it was child centred. That is absolutely correct and members would need to work very hard to persuade me otherwise.

We have talked a lot about numbers during the debate. People might think that one plus one equals two, but as a mathematician I can say that there are five alternative answers in the one-plus-one philosophy. If time permits, I will explain what they are at the end of my speech. Just as in mathematics, so in this debate.

Margaret Mitchell very usefully gave us quite a long and interesting list of rights that people acquire at the age of 12—I certainly heard things of which I had not been aware. There is a series of ages at which people are allowed to do certain things. It is worth saying that someone can get a firearms certificate at the age of 14. Someone can get a shotgun certificate at any age—there is no age qualification, but someone under the age of 15 is required to be supervised with a shotgun when they are exercising their rights. Someone can fly an aircraft at the age of 14, and someone can drive on a public highway in a car at the age of 17.

Alex Cole-Hamilton: The member is describing the range of ages for different activities, the majority of which relate to physical limitations or physical capacities. Does he recognise that the chamber only very recently extended the franchise to 16-year-olds? We have credited 16-year-olds with sufficient judgment to decide on the right Government for them. Should we not be raising the age of criminal responsibility further? If we recognise that people have the capacity to have political judgment only at 16, what does that say about their actions and their ability to tell right from wrong at the ages preceding 16?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes a good point, which I will simply pass on. I will say that the bill makes interesting comments at sections 39 and 43, when it refers to taking account

“of the child’s age and maturity”.

That makes an important point. I stopped growing when I was 12 years old because I was given a hormone treatment for a particular condition that I have, although the treatment did not help the condition. Children mature physically and mentally at varying rates. Whatever we do, we need to take account of that, and I am pleased that the bill provides for that at different points.

I am also pleased about something rather obvious: the Justice Committee is not the lead committee for the bill. It could have been, if we think about it, and there are references to the Justice Committee’s activities, but the lead committee is the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. That is entirely appropriate.

With regard to age, we are adults at 18 for most purposes but not all, because sometimes the age is 21. There is no age restriction on opening a bank account; someone can open one as soon as they can sign anything. However, they cannot have bank credit until they are 18.

There is a wee issue with the bill in that there is an assumption that there is certainty about when people are 12. Bashir Ahmad, our late member and friend in this chamber, did not know when his birthday was. Many people who come to Scotland from other jurisdictions are in the same position. He was given a birthday by the legal system—if someone looks up the records, they will see something there—but there was no certainty about it. Apparently, when asked when he was born, his mother said, “Spring.” That was all that there was to know. In a number of parts of the bill—possibly at section 23, for example—we might say that a constable “reasonably believes” somebody to be under 12, because there cannot always be certainty.

I turn to the detail in the bill—I am alert to the Presiding Officer’s guidance that I should head towards a conclusion. There are a couple of wee things. I make my usual comment: section 28(7) says that the definition of “‘vehicle’ includes a vessel”—in that case, it should include aircraft, too, although it might be ultra vires to do so; I am not entirely certain about that.

We have heard about a child’s right to refuse to answer questions. I see that that is covered at section 46(2) and section 42, so I am not quite clear on what more we might have to do.

I conclude with the committee’s report, on which I congratulate it, and come back to the question of what a place of safety is. In coming to a conclusion on that, it might be helpful to document, or to see a document about, where there are places of safety across Scotland so that we can assess whether there are enough of them.

Presiding Officer, I am obliged to you for your indulgence.


08 November 2018

S5M-14123 Care Homes (South Lanarkshire)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-14123, in the name of Monica Lennon, on “South Lanarkshire Care Homes Under Threat”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that South Lanarkshire Council plans to reduce the number of its care home facilities; notes that the first phase of these plans includes the closure of McWhirter House in Larkhall and Kirkton House in Blantyre; considers that the proposed new community hub facility at the St Joseph’s site in Blantyre is not a like-for-like replacement and that this will result in a reduction in the number of long-term residential beds; understands that the closure of McWhirter House will leave Larkhall with no council-run care facilities for older people; believes that council-run care provision must remain a vital part of the delivery of residential care for older people and that the ageing population requires a shift in the model of care in South Lanarkshire and the Central Scotland region; recognises that the reliance of the older population on care is likely to increase in coming decades; acknowledges calls that this should be achieved without a reduction in the availability of long-term council care beds and with the support of the community; is concerned at reports that there has not been meaningful consultation with care home staff, trade unions or the communities that are affected by the plans; acknowledges in particular the concerns raised by the GMB, and notes the calls for the SNP administration in South Lanarkshire to halt the planned closures.

... ... ...

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

I am glad of the opportunity to speak in the debate and I thank Monica Lennon for providing the opportunity for us to have a broader-based discussion about how we support older people in our community. I do that from the perspective of being the only person in the chamber who is in his eighth decade. I am, therefore, perhaps most directly thinking about what my future may be in the event of my health deteriorating to the point that I need that kind of care.

I will make a few points of common cause with Monica Lennon at the outset, to show that we need not focus simply on what might divide us, but on what might unite us. It is entirely proper that Monica Lennon should bring forward a matter of constituency interest; I do not agree with all those members who might have suggested otherwise. She was also entirely correct to raise the issue of a 92-year-old with dementia. There are some very special needs for people with dementia that it is worth considering for a second or two. They are—in general terms, because dementia comes in many forms—people who are relatively intolerant of any change, however small it may be. They are people who require a regular routine and certainty and whose ability to understand change—however well intentioned it may be—is more limited. Therefore, it is correct to refer in the debate to individuals who may be affected by change.

Claudia Beamish said, quite correctly, that we need to look at longer visits by carers—I think that that is a Scottish issue—and more care at home. I fundamentally agree with her on that, and on the need to look at Scotland as a whole.

We need to give a bit of context to this, and the context is undoubtedly that we are making progress. If I recall the number correctly, there has been a 37 per cent reduction in what is commonly called bed blocking, which means that we have an opportunity to look at matters in a different way. In the context of the existing care homes being criticised by the care commission for their provision, the option to do nothing is not available to the council, as it would similarly not be available to councils across Scotland.

I will close my short contribution by saying that the difficult matters that affect those individuals in our community who are in the greatest need are best conducted by building coalitions of interest. I worked with Tam Dalyell—a man with whom I had fundamental disagreements on a wide range of issues, but with whom I had an excellent personal relationship—many times on matters of joint interest. For example, Tam and I worked together when someone was about to be thrown out of the UK by the Home Office in 1999 and that person is still in the UK. That is because we were able to put our political differences to one side and put the needs of our constituents at the heart of our concerns.

In conducting the debate and taking the issue forward, I encourage us all to focus less on our differences than on the commonalities, which may help in the constituencies of Monica Lennon, James Kelly and other MSPs who represent the area. The issue is difficult but it needs attention, and we will have to make change and adapt to changing needs, changing responsibilities and different models of care.


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