03 December 2019

S5M-18901 Purple Light-up Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18901, in the name of Jeremy Balfour, on #PurpleLightUp, a global movement for change. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the work of the Purple Light Up campaign, which celebrates the economic power of disabled people all over the world; notes that #PurpleLightUp aims to link the colour with disabled employee networks and resource groups and the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which takes place every 3 December; understands that the campaign is led by disabled employees and challenges organisations and businesses to consider what it would take to join up disability networks in order to build a movement that drives cultural change from the inside out and enables business leaders to learn from their own people and to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled people, and notes the calls encouraging disabled employees to shout out about their talents and for businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate in order to improve opportunities for disabled people.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Jeremy Balfour on securing the debate and thank him for doing so. I, like others, welcome the opportunity to celebrate the important work of the purple light-up campaign to highlight the talent of disabled workers and what they bring to the workplace. I will make an obvious point: “disabled workers” might be a single label, but it hides a vast array of disabilities and talents and we should not imagine that one label covers it.

I will talk about one of my late pals, who died three years ago. Brian Rattray was a pal, a colleague and a great political campaigner. When I joined the Bank of Scotland as a trainee programmer in 1969, Brian was already in situ, working as a programmer. He had been totally blind since an accident he had at about the age of 12.

I was ensconced in a room in a rather cold building in George Street, Edinburgh, learning how to do computer programming. A guy came in—he was always silent—went across the room, sat down at a card punch machine, punched away at his programmes, took them out and just walked out. Being the new boots, in my first week at the bank, I was ignored by him totally and I said nothing to him. It was very cold and I moved a little closer to me the two-bar electric fire that the bank, in its largesse, had provided for heating the room. The next time Brian came in, he walked straight through it and it was only then, after three or four days, that I realised that he was blind. So adapted was he to his environment that I was unaware of it. He was not ignoring me because he was rude, and he definitely did not ignore me after he tripped over my fire: I got a volley of abuse that would have done justice to anybody in the shipyards of the Clyde or any of our industrial factories.

Brian never let his disability get in the way of the job he was doing. He refused for years to have a guide dog; he walked along the street and you could not keep up with how fast he walked, waving his white stick. On one memorable occasion, he walked over—that is the only way I can describe it—the chief executive of the Bank of Scotland, who was coming the other way and did not dodge out of the way quick enough. Brian just walked over him, swore at him and continued on. That was how Brian treated life.

His blindness, however, meant something very important that made him extremely valuable to his colleagues. Because it was difficult for him to read all the technical manuals relating to our job, he had basically memorised them all. Whenever you needed the answer to a question that was technical and deep, you simply asked Brian. He was genuinely the brains and the memory of the outfit, and I will treasure the memory of him forever.

We had John, who was also blind. He had very slight sight and his hobby, amazingly enough, was flying gliders. He never got to fly solo, but he loved looping the loop in a glider, under supervision. There is no limit to what people can do, except the limits that we impose upon them: that is an important point.

Jeremy Balfour referred to the Scottish Government’s work. We have seen a decrease in disability unemployment, which is good, but we are only just on target for halving disability unemployment by 2038. I would certainly like to see us move a little faster. The Government itself is recruiting more disabled staff. We identified in 2018 that 16 per cent of recruits identified as disabled; two years earlier it was eight per cent. So the Government is doing its bit.

Others must also help to create a society where disabled people generally have equal access to education, as Jackie Baillie said, because of the contribution that they can make. Programmes such as Fair Start Scotland are making a big difference. The improved participation of young people in modern apprenticeship programmes is removing some of the barriers that disabled people experience. The motion calls on,

“businesses, disabled organisations and governments to listen, act and innovate”.

I see evidence that they are, but we have a lot more still to do.


28 November 2019

S5M-20049 Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-20049, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

It may be worth reminding ourselves that there have been no major or significant changes to the franchise in the last 200 years that the Tories have not opposed, starting with the great reform act of 1832, or the first reform act and its Scottish equivalent, which, incidentally took the vote away from women. The Pittite faction had its fingerprints all over that. The Tories also opposed the removal of the property qualification.

The only time that the Tories had a momentary point of self-doubt was during the 1922 election when Winston Churchill lost his seat in Dundee to a Scottish prohibitionist party in a hangover from the pre-1832 provisions, whereby boroughs elected multiple members, and Dundee elected only two members. Voters had only one vote, but they could elect two members, and in the 1922 election Winston Churchill came third. He did not think much of the system then—

My mother had to wait until she was 30 to get the right to vote, and when she got that right she got two votes, because she was a university graduate. Every stage of the way, major changes have been resisted by the Tories. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Adam Tomkins: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will take an intervention from Mr Tomkins now that I have finished my point.

Adam Tomkins: I am excessively grateful to the member for taking an intervention.

Surely, in this wonderful and not entirely accurate history of Conservative franchise reform, Mr Stevenson is not going to overlook the Reform Act of 1867, which was pioneered by Benjamin Disraeli, a Conservative Prime Minister, and provided for the biggest single increase in the franchise in the 19th century.

Stewart Stevenson: That is correct; indeed, that led to the introduction of the first secret votes, as a result of the doubling in the franchise that derived from the three acts—it was not just one act; there were a number of acts over a four-year period. The first secret ballot took place in August, in a by-election—in Uttoxeter, if I recall correctly, but I am slightly uncertain about that; it is not in my notes, for which I apologise to Mr Tomkins.

We have heard a lot about residency and so on. The bottom line is that we need to be cautious about taking away the right to vote from residents who are citizens of other countries. I have three family members who are not resident in the UK—they are resident in the EU and elsewhere—and who have the right to vote in the country in which they reside. If we interfere with the rights of people in this country, there might be reciprocal action elsewhere. However, that is speculation, not certainty. I very much support the provisions on qualification.

More fundamental, on prisoner voting, a person is deprived of their liberty as a punishment and perhaps for the protection of society. In other jurisdictions—I have a niece who is now a Swedish citizen because of Brexit, so I am particularly well informed about Sweden—better connections are retained between people who have to be deprived of their liberty and their pre-prison lives, and we find that the chance of a prisoner resuming their life in a proper fashion after prison is enhanced by the number of civic connections that they have with their previous life. The ability to retain their house, their residency, connections to their family and their right to vote: it is not that a single measure makes the difference, but that the aggregation of all the measures provides assistance. In our own jurisdiction, we know that, when we send someone to prison, we reduce the chances of their effective rehabilitation and we increase the chance of their recidivism. That is a more general point.

Like others, I have gained considerable experience since coming to Parliament. I have attended 278 Justice Committee meetings and I have visited prisons—I have not been in prison—in Scotland, Wales, France and the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus. Different jurisdictions do things in different ways, but the bottom line is that we have to think about the practical effects.

I support what we are trying to do, but there are a couple of things that we can think about. The 12-month rule is a relatively arbitrary one, but it is simple to understand, which is a great merit, and we could tweak it if we think that it should be a different period. I thought that the bill might make a distinction between convictions under a summary procedure and those under a solemn procedure, but that could actually make things more complicated.

In my mind, there is a wee difficulty with the way in which section 7(4) is constructed, because it talks about

“the date of the election”.

However, proxies can of course be postal proxies, so, in a strict sense, votes can be cast before the date of the election. Therefore, I think that it might be worth revisiting the drafting.

On uninterrupted residency, it is possible to have multiple places of residence. I have residences both in my constituency and in Edinburgh, as perhaps some colleagues here do, too. I am not allowed to vote in the same election twice, but I am allowed to be registered in the electoral register twice, although I choose not to be, I hasten to add. I think that there are wee issues around that point as well.

I strongly support the provisions of the bill, not simply because of the ECHR issues or the court cases, but because it is a modest and useful contribution to the rehabilitation of prisoners as they return to society by preventing the total disconnection that the prison system often creates.

Finally, I congratulate Tom Fox, whom we all know as our connection with the SPS, as he retires at 5 o’clock today.


20 November 2019

S5M-18139 International Year of the Periodic Table

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18139, in the name of Iain Gray, on the international year of the periodic table. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that 2019 has been designated by UNESCO as the International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT) in tandem with the 150th anniversary of the Mendeleev periodic table; understands that the periodic table is an intrinsic tool to the study and practice of science and is regarded as one of human history’s greatest advancements; commends the work of the Royal Society of Chemistry and others to promote IYPT and inspire the next generation of innovators; celebrates Scotland’s rich scientific history and the impact that it has had across the world, and recognises a need to continue to support scientific research, STEM education, international collaboration, skills development and sustainability in order to continue Scotland’s legacy as a world leader in science.

... ... ...

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

I do not know what my chemistry teacher would have said about me, but it probably would not be very flattering. In fact, Bert Seath, for it was he, whenever an experiment was taking place in the lab, used to leave the room, stand just outside the door and peer inside, so afraid was he of the potential results. That was entirely attributable to the students and not to any deficiencies in his teaching. Poor Bert had previously been blown up in an experiment and did not want to repeat that.

Iain Gray touched on an important point in relation to science. When we talk about subjects such as this, they do not stand alone from moral and social issues. Mr Gray was entirely right to talk about the conditions in countries such as Congo, which we depend on for much of our technology. Lithium, too, is extracted in appalling conditions yet electric cars depend on it and will continue to do so unless we change the technology.

The debate has been an excellent opportunity for my two interns, Claire Brigden and Anna Coleman, who this morning I asked to prepare some speaking notes. They have limited scientific knowledge so, as always, it was interesting to see how much they could discover in a short space of time.

I thank Iain Gray for providing the opportunity to discuss the periodic table. It is one of those visual things that sticks in people’s memory from their education. Even if the detail escapes them, the shape will stick with them. It is a rich tool for teaching and for remembering. To me as a mathematician—a very humble and poor one, I hasten to add—the periodic table is one of the great things in chemistry, because its symmetry and pattern mean that it lends itself to mathematicians in particular.

Like Iain Gray, my interns identified Sir William Ramsay and found that he is described as one of the greatest chemical discoverers of the time. I have always thought that it was a particularly notable achievement for someone, back in 1894, to discover a chemically inert gas, because how could it be detected when it does not interact with anything? My interns tell me that, when he named it argon, he did so because that is the Greek word for lazy, and as a gas it does not have any particularly notable chemical properties. Of course, having discovered one noble gas, he went on to discover another three, which was absolutely excellent.

That is an example of Scotland being a leader in scientific discovery. Of course, Iain Gray correctly identified that that did not come out of nowhere. It happened because we had a well-educated population who took an interest in philosophical and scientific matters. We are only about 500m away from the memorial to David Hume in the old Calton cemetery at the top of the hill next to the Scottish Government building. That celebrates one part of our achievement. At the end of George Street, we have a new statue to Maxwell. We celebrate our achievements.

However, we must have a new bank of highly skilled, STEM-literate employees, and they must be men and women. If we fail to engage the females of our race, we miss out on 50 per cent of the terrific intellect that is out there.

The periodic table gives us a universal language to talk about elements and molecules, and helps us to catalyse and synthesize scientific knowledge and excellence. Of course, it is used around the world and promotes joint progress, because we have a shared model, and collaboration will always be of value in science.

I very much welcome the opportunity to recognise the momentous contribution of the periodic table and acknowledge its continuing importance in scientific development and education.

I must say that, in the science wing of the school that I attended, my favourite thing was always the Van de Graaff generator, which we could use to charge ourselves up to 1 million volts, and then go and discharge on other people—to their great shock and alarm. However, I also remember the periodic table, which is immensely valuable to us and will be to others.


19 November 2019

S5M-19922 Fisheries Negotiations

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on S5M-19922, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on sea fisheries and end-year negotiations.

... ... ...

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

My throat might mean that I will sit down early, which I am sure that you will welcome, Presiding Officer.

Just to pick up on the points that Finlay Carson made, I think that his comments are an abuse of parliamentary privilege and I will explain why. We are granted privilege to protect us from the legal consequences of what we say for very particular purposes. The vote that Mr Carson referred to never took place in the form that he set out. The reason why is that the clerks at the European Parliament recorded the SNP votes incorrectly: that was corrected within hours of its being drawn to their attention. Therefore, anyone who asserts otherwise is abusing the privileges of this Parliament.

Having said that, let me congratulate Finlay Carson. I join with him on this, and I shake hands with him across the chamber, having said what I have said: when he refers to our “brave” fishermen, there will be no one in the chamber who disagrees with that. We see that in the Government’s motion, and we have heard that from Colin Smyth. We unite in that.

My very first constituency activity after being elected in 2001 was to attend the Fishermen’s Mission in Peterhead for the presentation of a Royal Humane Society medal to a fisherman. He had been on a vessel off the coast of Greenland in January or February, when there was ice on the superstructure of the fishing vessel, and one of the crew members got swept overboard. This gentleman leapt into the sea, where the survival time was a matter of a few minutes, rescued the other fisherman and brought him back to safety. As my very first activity in my constituency, that reinforced my previous understanding of the risks to which fishermen expose themselves and of the bravery that they are prepared to show. Incidentally, the fisherman who won the award said that he was much more concerned about speaking to the audience who were there to see him receive his medal. I sort of understand that.

Now to the matter in hand and the end-of-year negotiations. Unusually, there are some particular and acknowledged difficulties with the scientific information this year. There is also a long-run problem with some of the baselines for the scientific information, which I think that it is time for the scientists to do something about. They acknowledge the difficulties. The science is not an exact one—let us not pretend that it is—but, this year, we are hearing of particular problems.

It is a great delight that Fergus Ewing has such a high regard for George Eustice, his opposite number in the UK Government, but I hope that in the aftermath of the election we will see Fergus Ewing taking the lead if George Eustice is not available—or, more to the point, if he cannot get any guidance from the new UK Government.

Where are we in the whole thing? Conservative colleagues are focusing on but one aspect of the industry—that of the catchers. I led a members’ business debate on the sea of opportunity campaign, and I welcome the sea of opportunity for our catchers. However, that cannot be disconnected from the seafood sector and the need for wider coastal communities to benefit, should it be the case that more fish can be caught by our fishermen—and, fundamentally, landed in Scotland to be processed.

Leaving the customs union and the single market presents immense challenges for the processing sector, however. That sector does not just involve the big processors in my constituency; there are also the wee smokehouses on the west coast, which are a vital part of very small communities there. Like my constituents, people there might employ one or two EU workers, who are vital to making that local enterprise work. We are already seeing that workers are not so willing to come to the north-east and elsewhere in Scotland as they once were, partly because of the devaluation of the pound but also because of the hostile immigration environment that is promulgated and operated by the UK Tory Government.

The notion of thousands of new jobs in processing is utterly fictional, at a time when we have record vacancies in the industry in the north-east. If the industry cannot process, we have to have the same rights and privileges that our friends and colleagues across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland are being given: they are allowed to stay in the single market and the customs union—so our competitors and our rivals are potentially undermining our industry.

I end with a word about how well prepared the Tory Government is for this sea of opportunity and everything that goes with it. Two days before the end of October, the UK Government still could not tell fish processors what labels to print to put on the side of fish exports. That tells us something about the shambles of this Tory Government’s approach to fishing.


13 November 2019

S5M-19822 Artificial Intelligence and Data-Driven Technologies

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-19822, in the name of Kate Forbes, on artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies: opportunities for the Scottish economy and society.

... ... ...

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

I will respond to some parts of the debate, but particularly to the remarks that we have just heard about the R100 programme. It might be worth reminding members that, in schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, the reservations that we are not responsible for include two specific areas: telecommunications and internet services.

Therefore, where we are moving ahead to implement high-speed broadband in every premise in Scotland that wants it, we are doing that, we are picking up the failure of the UK Government to deliver on its legal responsibilities. The UK Government is contributing only 4 per cent—one twenty-fifth—of the cost.

Let us move on to—to be blunt—more interesting things and talk about quantum computing, which Tom Arthur raised. It is related to the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, which affects the operation of the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is a particularly interesting sub-atomic particle with a spin of minus one half, which has a referential between two instances at a distance that is not constrained by the speed of light—it is a unique particle. There is a connection to Edinburgh, in that Professor Higgs is from here.

Artificial intelligence sprang from the work of Professor Wolfson at Heriot-Watt University in the 1970s. At the weekend, I tried to find my book on that, which is somewhere in a box in my garage, but I just could not find it. He designed a manual computer constructed of matchboxes that was a self-learning machine. It was mechanical, not electronic, and a very interesting thing it was, too.

Daniel Johnson might care to note that algorithms have been around for a while. The first algorithm was created by Ada Lovelace in the mid-1800s.

The debate is not about artificial intelligence but about artificial learning—that is just a quibble that I have. Intelligence is about being able to invent and learning is about being able to innovate; computers can innovate, but I am not at all sure that they can invent.

A lot of the debate is about data and some concerns about data are not particularly new. I will quote that most reliable of sources: myself. Forty-five years ago, in a talk that I gave, I said:

“There is talk of databanks and the undesirable uses to which they may be put ... George Orwell casts a long shadow.”

I was not alone in saying that 45 years ago, and many of the things that we are discussing today are not particularly new.

The power and ubiquity of computers are having a profound effect on many parts of our economy. It is just another industrial revolution, which will eliminate some jobs and create many more, as previous revolutions have done. China and the US are probably the leaders in that. The US is a country that is pretty good at creating companies and individual wealth—we can debate that on another occasion—and China is a great technological innovator. Those are complementary strengths.

I very much welcome the fact that the UK Government has produced an AI sector deal—leaving aside the fact that I do not think that it is AI. It is interesting that the companies referenced in the AI sector deal are almost all companies that have come to the UK. That is good and they are welcome, but the intellectual property that comes from that effort does not remain in the UK; rather, it is to the benefit of jurisdictions elsewhere. We certainly have to step up to the mark in improving our education system.

Emma Harper was correct to talk about the use of AI in health. It is important to make services more cost effective and to improve patient treatment and outcomes. We will be able to speed up diagnosis by learning from information available from diagnoses that were previously made by humans. Automating the process will speed things up, but it is important that we leave the oversight and responsibility with humans.

The Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics was launched last year at the University of Glasgow, so that is Scotland’s contribution to using AI in a way that will benefit society as a whole.

We will have new tools. We will be able to deal intelligently with the huge challenge of climate change; AI can help us with that. Leaving aside autonomous vehicles, AI in vehicles is already reducing the consumption of fuel, by helping them to use it in a more intelligent way. Public transportation can be improved by the application of AI in individual vehicles and in controlling and making better use of the network.

AI amplifies human skills; it does not replace them. Our job is to ensure that we always know where the data that we are using has come from and that we protect it. We must always ensure that the paramountcy of the human being remains.


07 November 2019

S5M-19743 Referendums (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-19743, in the name of Michael Russell, on the Referendums (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

... ... ...

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

I will pick up on what were almost the last words that we heard from Donald Cameron about there being no oversight or scrutiny of secondary legislation. That is unmitigated tosh, if such a word is allowed to be used in the chamber. That can be illustrated by the current activities of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in looking at the deposit return scheme, which is being introduced by secondary legislation. The committee and Parliament have decided that there will be an extended period of consideration and the committee will produce a report. There will therefore be evidence. That is exactly the process that we would have in scrutiny terms—

Mike Rumbles: What tosh!

Stewart Stevenson: I say to Mr Rumbles that that is exactly the process that we would have for scrutiny of primary legislation.

Adam Tomkins: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Adam Tomkins refused me three times. I ask him to please sit down.

I readily acknowledge that there is a difference between primary and secondary legislation in terms of accepting and rejecting it, but that is a decision-making difference, not a scrutiny difference. Members should take account of that. In that regard, I was very surprised by Adam Tomkins’s opening remarks when he said that Parliament could not debate secondary legislation. Someone of his experience and educational background should know better. Of course, I have been involved in politics a lot longer than him. In fact, I participated in three parliamentary elections before he was born.

I will now draw on some of that experience to consider the detail of what is before us, as this debate is about the detail of the bill.

On the functions of chief counting officer and other counting officers under section 9(4), I suggest to Mr Russell and the Government that it would be useful if we also gave the number of ballot papers that were issued. That is something that political parties know, but the public do not. We might have a wee think about that.

Turning to section 10(3)(d), which identifies

“a person providing goods or services to the counting officer,”

I think that we might also consider whether we should include a person providing services to someone who wishes to vote. If public transport failure means that someone cannot get to the polling station, that would be of a similar character. We should look at those provisions.

Section 13, on campaign rules, is about

“the conduct of campaigning”


“restricting the publication of certain material”.

We need to be careful to consider what rules might apply to those who are not directly involved in a referendum but who might be seeking to influence its outcome. I am thinking about newspapers and newspaper articles.

Section 16 is about the destruction, concealment or alteration of documents. I relate that to paragraph 38(1) of schedule 2, under which the ballot papers must be retained for a year. However, there is no such provision in relation to the materials that a campaigner might have, saying how long those materials should be retained for. One of the problems with previous referendums has been that the campaigns fold up and disappear quite rapidly after the result is declared. There is a case for saying that the materials that they produce should be retained for a specified time. I will not say how long but, if it is a year for the ballot papers, that gives us an insight.

On section 20, on the attendance of the Electoral Commission at proceedings, and sections 21 and 22, there is no direct provision for the attendance of international observers at referendums. We would generally accept that that is part of good practice. I am not saying that the bill as introduced prohibits that from being provided for; there are ways in which that can be done, at section 20(4)(c), which specifies

“a person appointed by the Electoral Commission for the purposes of this section.”

However, that kind of conflicts with paragraph 15(2) of schedule 2, under which the presiding officers also have power—and they are the people in the polling stations. Indeed, I turn now to some of the powers that they have under the bill—some of which are slightly odd. The presiding officers may decide who is admitted to a polling station, without restriction. That seems a very broad thing, and different decisions could be made in different polling stations. That is unhelpful for the integrity of any vote, whether on a referendum or on another subject.

On the casting of votes, proposed legislation of this kind might sensibly at least make provision for the future bringing forward, by secondary legislation—being a subject that we could debate—of electronic voting as an additional means of voting. The bill as introduced is silent on that.

According to schedule 2:

“The hours of polling are between 7am and 10pm.”

I think that, for major events such as these, it is time to think about whether polling should take place over three days—a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If we make big decisions, they should be made by the maximum number of people.

There is also an issue about ballot boxes. We should ensure that a minimum number of votes should go in a ballot box. I know of a ballot box that gets only four votes in it so, when it is tipped out, the secrecy of the ballot is compromised.

I will now conclude—as you are indicating that I should, Presiding Officer—by saying that there have been local authority referendums before, of which Strathclyde water and Edinburgh road charging are examples. Those are referenda—oh dear; I mean referendums—that would have benefited from a structure such as that proposed in the bill, as indeed would the 1934-35 peace referendum, which was on whether the UK should stay in the League of Nations. Even I was not around then, although some might suggest so.

Finally, I counsel my colleagues that “referenda” is not the plural of “referendum”, which is a fourth-declension noun. “Referenda” means something altogether different, and is a plural gerundive.


06 November 2019

S5M-18960 UN Year of Indigenous Languages and European Day of Languages

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18960, in the name of Angus MacDonald, on the United Nations year of indigenous languages and European day of languages. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 2019 is the UN Year of Indigenous Languages, and that the European Day of Languages will take place on 26 September; acknowledges the strong contribution that indigenous languages bring to Scotland’s rich and varied culture; notes that it is through language that we communicate with the world, define identity, express history and culture, learn, defend human rights and participate in all aspects of society; believes that, through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression; notes that language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation and sustainable development; praises the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig for its efforts to promote, encourage and grow indigenous Gaelic language and culture through supporting local learning groups and events, as well as supporting the national Gaelic Language Plan and providing support for Gaelic-medium education; highlights the work of the Scots Language Centre in promoting and encouraging Scots and the regional dialects of the language throughout Scotland and, in doing so, raising the understanding of Scots, Doric and Lallans and how Scotland's language came to be; notes the work of the Scots Language Society in its efforts to promote and encourage the Scots leid, best known for its “Lallans” journal and annual “Sangschaw”, which is a competition of singing and writing in Scots equivalent to the Scottish Gaelic Mod or Welsh Eisteddfod; understands that the Council of Europe declared 26 September the annual Day of Languages after the success of the European Year of Languages in 2001, and is marked across all 47 member states of the Council of Europe; recognises that the aims of the European Day of Languages are to alert the public to the importance of language learning and diversifying the range of languages learnt in order to increase plurilingualism and intercultural understanding, promoting the rich linguistic and cultural diversity of Europe, which must be preserved and fostered, and encouraging lifelong language learning in and out of school, whether for study purposes, professional needs, purposes of mobility or pleasure and exchanges; considers that Scotland’s colourful, multicultural society is only enhanced by the languages that bridge its diverse communities together, from Polish, Indian, Chinese, Italian and many more to the languages of Scotland’s culture in Scots and Gaelic; believes that, by celebrating the European Day of Languages, people are promoting the objectives of raising awareness of Europe’s rich linguistic diversity, the need to diversify the range of languages people learn and the need for people to develop some degree of proficiency in two languages or more to be able to play their full part in democratic citizenship in Europe, while fully understanding that language skills are a necessity and a right for everyone; notes the calls for people to celebrate both the 2019 UN Year of Indigenous Languages and the European Day of Languages across all communities in Scotland, and looks forward to celebrating Scotland’s indigenous languages and what it considers Scotland’s diversity and acceptance of other cultures in the future.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Angus MacDonald, not only on lodging the longest-ever motion in the Parliament but, more important, on securing the debate.

I thank my intern Anna, who is bilingual English and Mexican Spanish, for providing my speaking notes for tonight. She is familiar with bilingualism.

I want to pick up on a point that John Finnie made. My mother was born in Dalmeny Street, in Leith, in 1909, to a Gaelic native speaker father and an Anglophone mother. She learned Gaelic to some degree before she went to school, but when she went to school she was punished if she used Gaelic. She left school with no Gaelic. It is ironic that she became a language teacher, teaching French and German, although she had no Gaelic. That has been the message down the ages.

I am very much looking forward to hearing from Peter Chapman, whose Doric far surpasses my trivial amount of the language. It is worth making the point that Doric is, I think, a language in its own right. It is as close to—or as distant from—English as Norwegian is to Swedish, and Norwegian and Swedish are recognised as separate languages. It might be time for Doric to have similar recognition.

I join other members in congratulating Bòrd na Gàidhlig on its successful work in promoting Gaelic and, in particular, for facilitating access to Gaelic for people at an early age. The number of people who speak Gaelic is stabilising, after a period of particular difficulty, and there is an increase in Gaelic speakers under the age of 20. If Gaelic becomes a language of the young, we can see a future for it, so I hope that that trend continues. We know that Gaelic is the key to Highland culture, heritage, tradition and society.

We have other languages that sort of dribble into our perception. Just a mile outside my constituency is the town of New Pitsligo, which has the alternative name Cyaak, which is Brythonic—it is really Welsh. We have a long history of many different languages in Scotland.

Teaching is important, if we are to preserve our traditions, but individuals can play their part, too. Expressions that we inherited from our ancestors are important, and it is good to use the oral tradition to pass them down.

Multilingualism is a key European value and a crucial component of economic growth and social cohesion, but not all Governments agree that that is the case. We have been particularly disappointed by the failure to allow into Scotland at first asking some Gaelic teachers from places elsewhere that use Gaelic. I hope that we will not see a repetition of that. There is an acute shortage of qualified Gaelic teachers, and we do not need further barriers to teachers coming here to help.

In September, the Scots language awards made an excellent contribution to that area of policy and gave much deserved recognition to the many talented writers, performers and educators who work in Scots.

On the doorstep of the Parliament, outside the Canongate kirk, there is a recent statue of Robert Fergusson. I will close with one verse of his nine-verse poem “Braid Claith”. It was published in 1773 and is directed at us politicians and our potential arrogance.

“Ye wha are fain to hae your name
Wrote in the bonny book of fame,
Let merit nae pretension claim
To laurel’d wreath,
But hap ye weel, baith back and wame,
In gude Braid Claith.”

In the 21st century, we can learn a lot from the Scots language, even if we have to go back to the 18th century. Robert Burns described Robert Fergusson as

“my elder brother in the muse”.


S5M-18574 World Day Against the Death Penalty

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The first item of business is a members’ business debate on a motion in the name of Bill Kidd, on world day against the death penalty. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises World Day Against the Death Penalty 2019 on 10 October; considers that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights; notes that Amnesty International’s most recent annual report on the death penalty recorded at least 690 executions in 20 countries in 2018, a decrease of 31% compared with 2017, which is the lowest number of executions recorded by Amnesty International in the last decade; further notes that most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam in that order; welcomes news that Amnesty International’s overall assessment of the use of the death penalty in 2018 indicates that the global trend is towards its abolition, despite regressive steps from a small number of countries; notes the statement from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in October 2018 calling for all nations to abolish the practice of executions, and stands against the death penalty in all circumstances.

... ... ...

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

As other members have done, I congratulate Bill Kidd on securing this important debate on the pressing issue of human rights. I also thank my intern, Claire, who joined me last week, whom I asked to look at the subject and write my speaking notes for me.

Despite Scotland being at the forefront of the movement to abolish the death penalty, we should not forget that it was practised in our country until relatively recently. The last execution on Scottish soil was that of Henry John Burnett in 1963, and—as was just referred to—it took until 1998 for the death penalty to be fully abolished under the European convention on human rights. Although we can be proud that injustice of that kind no longer occurs in Scotland, we must not fall into complacency, as we are not yet all free from the threat of the death penalty.

Opposition to the death penalty is based not only on the fact that it is a denial of human rights, but on the fact that it sets a precedent for a more broadly vindictive society. The continued existence of capital punishment forces us to ask what sort of society we wish to live in, and what sort of society we wish to help others to live in. The utilisation of the death penalty creates an authoritarian, brutal and regressive atmosphere that seeps into every part of life.

We must aim for our democracies to set an example to countries that are not democracies of how we should value compassionate justice and choose rehabilitation over retribution. Rehabilitation is difficult if the person who needs to be rehabilitated has been executed.

Such priorities are not about being weak on crime; in fact, they better equip us to reduce it. It is no coincidence that states that still employ the death penalty have higher murder rates than those that uphold the human rights of their citizens. The argument that it provides a deterrent is simply not borne out by the evidence from countries that are—or claim to be—democracies in which the death penalty is still part of the criminal justice system.

Today’s motion cites the trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. We heard that two thirds of countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The tide is turning against the death penalty, as more countries choose to reject such an outright denial and termination of human rights.

In 2018, Burkina Faso’s National Assembly abolished the death penalty, making it the latest of many countries to move away from capital punishment. The European Union has been at the forefront of the fight against the death penalty; not only does it ban it in all member states, but it is the largest donor to anti-death-penalty campaigns. In 2007, it declared 10 October as European day against the death penalty. We in Scotland, and in the UK, share that commitment to protect and ensure the rights of all our citizens.

Although progress is being made every year, as many colleagues referred to, at least 20 countries carried out executions in 2018. As we look to the future, we should rightfully acknowledge, through the motion, the firm support of Scotland—of which we, as a Parliament, are a part—for the abolition of the death penalty.

I hope that we continue to take the time to recognise world day against the death penalty. Let us continue to promote and uphold human rights around the world as we push to eliminate such a cruel punishment from existence.


31 October 2019

S5M-19631 Forestry Act 1919 (Centenary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-19631, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919.

... ... ...

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

I will simply close off the issue of national parks by saying that it is slightly unusual to incorporate it into an amendment in the way that has been done. I do not oppose national parks; I just think that the approach is slightly odd. However, there we are; that is neither here nor there.

In 1919 debate on the second reading of the Forestry Bill, which took place on 5 August and went on until eight o’clock in the evening, the slightly different figure was given of only 4—not 5—per cent of the UK being covered by forestry. However, I do not think that we should argue about a per cent here or there. More fundamentally, that illustrated the problem that, in 1915-16, three quarters of the amount of timber that the UK required had to be imported. That was the scale of the problem, and that was at a point when Germany had many times more acres planted.

John Finnie might be interested to know that it was also identified in that debate that there were 5 million acres of sporting land that were thought to be suitable for planting, which would have been a better use of that land. Some debates are not new; those issues were part of the original second reading debate in the House of Commons in 1919.

Like others, I am very pleased to mark the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919. Forestry was one of my ministerial responsibilities before I demitted office some time ago. I very much enjoyed that part of my portfolio, because forests are important and forestry supports so many jobs, not only directly but downstream. We build timber-frame houses and we have sawmills, which make an important contribution to our economy and to tackling climate change.

The first forestry act was needed because of the war emergency. It was vital then that we had timber, and it was recognised that we needed to do something about it.

We know that, depending on implementation, forestry can help with or hinder the dangers that are related to climate change. Trees can absorb water and promote higher soil infiltration rates, which helps with issues such as flooding. They capture carbon out of the air and store it—they are huge and important carbon sinks.

Therefore, we celebrate our forests not simply for their physical expression of what we might otherwise express in poetry—they are visual poetry and a feast for the mind, as well as for the nose. When it comes to the environment, they are crucial to our future.

We have become more aware of the importance of woodlands. Although the Community Woodlands Association was not set up until 2003, it came from a decades-long appreciation of the importance of community woodlands. On the part of Mike Rumbles’s speech that related to national parks, I note that through the community asset transfer scheme that we passed in 2017, communities are taking more interest in forestry than they used to.

For many people who sit at screens each day and are parked in offices, time in a forest can contribute to good mental health. There is a quiet, stillness and placid environment in a forest that is a balm for the soul.

It is important to think about where we go now. We have to do a lot more planting of forests in Scotland, and I hope that we continue to do that.

In 1919, my father was 14 years old and at Fortrose academy, and my father’s cousin, James Stevenson, was part of Lloyd George’s Government, which introduced the bill.


08 October 2019

S5M-19287 Supporting Innovation

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): I remind members that there is absolutely no spare time this afternoon, so I will have to be quite strict on timings for the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S5M-19287, in the name of Ivan McKee, on supporting innovation.

... ... ...

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

In our modern context, innovation plays a critical part in our economic wellbeing. The process is a kind of creative destruction, to echo what Mr Whittle has just said, and it is about replacing the obsolete with the cutting edge and developing the previously unimagined. It is a catalyst to growth, which is why it is critical to every economy on the planet. However, innovation does not happen in isolation. It requires a rich soil for growth and a foundation upon which to build.

The debate has illustrated the danger of focusing on Government and private sector spend on research and development, because it is the outputs from that research and development and from spontaneous thinking that are more important. In other words, how many patents do we produce? How many registered designs and product names do we come up with? How many start-up companies go beyond “me too” enterprise?

It is interesting that Brian Whittle referred to Apple because, of course, the iPod, its first music kit, depended entirely on a chip that came from the Wolfson institute here in Edinburgh. We are still doing innovation—we have been doing it for a long time indeed.

Scotland wants to be a leader in innovation and we put our money where our mouth is. Product and process innovation has a clear link to employment growth but it does not happen in isolation; it generally relies on the quality of the business environment. The weaker the business environment, the less likely innovation will have a positive impact on jobs.

It is worth noting that when full employment is reached, productivity falls, because then the people who are being employed often work part time and do jobs that are not inherently productive. However, even the least productive jobs can respond to innovation.

It is certainly important that we have inclusive growth that matches our innovation ambition. That means investing in public infrastructure. The Forth crossing—now the Queensferry crossing—had an original budget of £3.4 billion, but we built it for less than £1.4 billion. If that ain’t innovation in Government and stepping up to ambition, I do not know what is. We innovate in housing, healthcare, energy, education and digital connectivity.

One thing is clearly missing from the debate—this relates to a feminist issue. The Intellectual Property Office says that only one in eight patents world wide is in a woman’s name. Therefore, our Government’s focus on STEM for women is vital, because there is a huge untapped source of potential innovation in this country, as there will be in countries across the world. All the women whom I meet say that they are can-do people, and I believe that all the women in my life are can-do people. That is not the only issue; attitudes, culture and self-belief are also important factors.

The Scottish Government is working with partners to support Scotland Can Do, which is good. We must also ensure that people have somewhere where they can innovate. We need people to take risks, and we need to be prepared to see failure.

Historically, Scotland has been an innovating nation. Alexander Burnett seemed to think that innovation started in 1707. Napier’s bones and the slide rule were developed in the 100 years before that point, and the decimal point came from John Napier, too. The first coal mining on artificial islands was done in Scotland in 1575. However, there were inventions after 1707. We bequeathed to the world the overdraft, which was invented in 1728 by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Relevant to 1707, Alexander Cumming invented the first flush toilet in 1775. Scotland invents; the world benefits.


01 October 2019

S5M-19160 Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 (Post-legislative Scrutiny)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee debate on motion S5M-19160, in the name of Jenny Marra, on post-legislative scrutiny of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee on its substantial work in producing its report.

Our having a committee with “Post-legislative Scrutiny” in its title is a welcome move forward. Historically, members on the back benches, the front benches and quite generally have mumped and moaned about a lack of scrutiny of legislation. The report that we debate today sets a pretty high benchmark for what we might see in the future.

I am reminded by this process of how things change, and of how they do not. The post-legislative scrutiny report stands in a very important place. All but one of the members who spoke on the bill at stage 3 have departed this Parliament. Only the member who was in charge of the bill is left: well done to Christine Grahame, who is truly the last person standing. I congratulate her.

When the bill was introduced, it was well intentioned and widely supported, albeit that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, when referring to the power of the database in section 8, showed a marked lack of enthusiasm in his contribution on 22 April 2010.

However, the report has put things in a different place. The intention that there was in 2010 is clearly as important today as it was then; its implementation has been hobbled by our not seeing bits of it picked up. The report shows—in painful detail—that that lacuna exists. It proffers no real insight into why so little action flowed from three years’ hard work by Ms Grahame and others to get the bill over the finishing line and on to the statute book. In the debate at the time, the cabinet secretary said

“We ... have an enabling power”

he was talking about section 8—but

“we are not persuaded that a database is either needed or wanted—nor is the committee.”—[Official Report, 22 April 2010; c 25672.]

However, things move on and, despite that being the view in 2010, we must now regard that as unfinished business with regard to what we are talking about today. The eight years since the bill came into force in 2011 have been perhaps too long.

My experience of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee—otherwise known as the DPLR Committee, on which I served for 1,283 days until March 2016—may illustrate some of the ways by which we might better implement the Parliament’s acts. A regular feature of the DPLR Committee was to say to the Government that there were errors in secondary legislation—they might be small errors or rather bigger ones—and, frequently, the Government would say that they would remedy those defects at the earliest opportunity. However, in the real world, the earliest opportunity often proved to be elusively distant or even non-existent, so the committee agreed with my suggestion that we should record those commitments and publish a list of them on a regular basis—it was quarterly, if I recall correctly.

That list shone a light into a dusty corner of our legislative process. Suddenly, the amendments that had been promised started to happen. The committee was publishing the list of those that were outstanding, and it was in the Government’s interest to see the list shrink rather than continue to grow. Perhaps in relation to legislation, it might be useful if we had a list of all the bits of legislation that have not yet been commenced—on this bill, it has all been commenced, but in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I was responsible for, there is a section that has not yet been commenced. There is a good and proper reason why that is so, but nonetheless, that was not in the public domain until I discovered it this morning. If we were to take that approach, it might be less likely that those important bits of legislation that we make would simply disappear.

The bill that we are discussing has not been forgotten. It has been amended in three places, twice by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. It has not been forgotten, but it has not been fully implemented.

As have others, I have been engaged by dogs when I would rather that they had not done so. Indeed, throughout the debate, I have been sitting on four fang marks from a leafleting escapade—I cannot exhibit them to members for a rather obvious reason. In the Falkirk West by-election in 2000, I shoved a leaflet through a door in Falkirk, and a dog collected it and my hand as part of the process. I have a scar, here, from six stitches. The householders, Mr and Mrs Reid, kindly let me wash the wound. It turned out that the dog was called Oliver, so I am the only politician to have a scar from being bitten by Oliver Reid.

Finally, there is a question whether the dogs or the humans are out of control. Dog fighting is a big issue in the United States and, once, they routinely destroyed hundreds of dogs that were involved in it. Now, people take those dog-fighting dogs, rehabilitate them—in most cases, successfully—and put them into homes where they have happy lives. If that does not prove that the problem is the owners and not the dogs, I do not know what does.


25 September 2019

S5M-17805 Product Recall Database

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-17805, in the name of John Mason, on the need for a product recall database. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the UK Government has served Whirlpool, which manufactures domestic appliances, with a notice to recall faulty tumble dryers; understands that this comes four years after the company issued a safety warning regarding some of its Creda, Hotpoint and Indesit devices; believes that research by the consumer charity, Electrical Safety First, suggests that only 10 to 20% of recalled products are actually returned or repaired, largely due to consumers being unaware of the recalls, and notes calls for the creation of a centrally-managed product recall database, which could allow consumers in Shettleston and across the country to check that their appliances are safe.

... ... ...

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

The subject in hand is a substantial issue. I am trying to work out whether I am one of the 37 per cent of MSPs who register their appliances. The answer is, “Sometimes I does and sometimes I doesn’t.” I suspect that that is true of most people, because it depends on all sorts of random things. Without question, there is difficulty in tracking down white goods that are in consumers’ premises or being carried around with them—there have been recalls of mobile phones—that require to be recalled.

I will address some of the practical issues, which might be helpful for what happens in future. It is all very well publishing lists of serial numbers, but it is not very obvious where the serial number is on a lot of white goods. If it is anywhere, it is probably at the back, covered in three to five years’ of grime. A person has to haul out the equipment to find the number and they then find that there are four or five labels saying different things with different numbers on them. Which one is the serial number? I have a little suggestion: it would be very helpful for the serial number to be on the front of a device and in a font size such that someone of my age can read it.

We also have an issue with finding people. We could require—I am not trying to identify whether the responsibility lies with Westminster or us; that is neither here nor there—the recording of all but the last digit of a postcode of the person buying a white good. Why would that be useful? First, by excluding the last digit, there would be a big enough cohort so that individuals could not be identified. A full postcode is between one and 100 people—well, one and 99, strictly speaking. Typically, recording all but the last digit would give a cohort of 750. If we know that X number are in that cohort, we can find them. Also, if we know that, overall, we have managed to find 10 per cent of the sales, we do not know about nine of them, and we can then go and do something about that.

Statistically, there are ways in which we can use information to home in on where the people that we do not know about are likely to be. Advertising to everybody in the population is very expensive and ineffective, and there would be difficulties if only a tiny percentage—the number may be right at the decimal point—of people have the goods. There is work that statisticians and others could do on the issue.

Having a database would certainly be useful. Many people would simply not use electronic databases. However, it would be useful to the citizens advice bureaux, retailers and service engineers and to MSPs when they are answering their constituents’ queries, or even taking the unsolicited opportunity to make comments to people.

It is disappointing that goods have to be recalled, but it is inevitable that that will happen. When engineering is involved, a proportion of a product will inevitably fail at some point in its life for reasons that are unexpected. I have been contacted in relation to my car. The manufacturers knew where I was, so they could write to me. When it comes to white goods, the situation is much more difficult.


S5M-19025 Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is the stage 3 debate on motion S5M-19025, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

I start by wishing John Scott well. I hope that he will be sitting beside me when we look at the climate change plan update, because his wise counsel—which is not to say that I agree unequivocally with everything that he says—will be important at that stage.

Farming has been an important part of the discussion, and John Scott has contributed to that debate, as have others across the political parties. I very much welcome the fact that we have, as a result of agreement to a Maurice Golden amendment, incorporated nitrogen accounting. That will help us to get a proper understanding of farming emissions.

We have had a bit of talk about the role of young activists in relation to climate change, which is entirely proper, but I want to take us back to something that I have not heard mentioned this afternoon, even though it is of equal and immediate importance. It is that this is a feminist issue as well as a youth issue.

In parts of the world, particularly in Africa, where aridification is taking place because of the diminution of rainfall and the drying up of wells, it is generally the women who are the farmers and who do the hard labour. They now have to walk many times the distances that they previously had to walk to get water or kindling. It is a feminist issue and it affects women across the world.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green): I agree, but does Stewart Stevenson think that maintaining the existing road-building programme will be a positive or negative contribution to women in sub-Saharan Africa?

Stewart Stevenson:If sub-Saharan Africa had better roads, I suspect that climate change would be less of a feminist issue, but I expect that that is not really the point that John Finnie was trying to make.

Patrick Harvie correctly said that the Greens advocate a 50 per cent target for 2030. However, we also need to think about the fact that there have been several changes to the baseline, which has added to the inventory of CO2. We therefore need to translate the targets that were set in 2009 to what they would be against today’s baseline: they would be rather different. In 2015, we added another greenhouse gas—nitrogen trifluoride—to the inventory. There have been various changes that affect how the numbers work, so the situation is a bit more complex than we sometimes like to pretend.

I also want to talk briefly about unanimity. I strongly believe that we must be driven by scientific consensus and not by individual scientists who are at one edge or the other of the argument. That is not because those scientists are wrong—they might be correct, within their areas of research. However, the consensus that comes through the IPCC—I welcome the report that came out today—will drive further change, as it must. If we start to pick scientists who take extreme positions, valid though they are, we will allow others to choose scientists who disagree with the whole agenda altogether. That is why we should always go with the consensus.

There is nothing to stop us exceeding scientists’ recommendations, so I encourage my Green Party colleagues to think carefully about withholding their support for the bill while continuing to campaign for more.

I will conclude by saying that, like others, I have been inspired by Greta Thunberg and the millions of young activists around the world. When I cast my vote shortly, I will be thinking of her and her young companions. I will be deid before it all matters: they have to inherit a world that is worth inheriting.


24 September 2019

SM5-18951 Common Frameworks

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a Finance and Constitution Committee debate on motion SM5-18951, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on the committee’s report on common frameworks. I invite members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak buttons now, and I call Bruce Crawford to speak to and move the motion.

... ... ...

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

It is a shame that Willie Rennie is temporarily out of the chamber. On 24 May 1916, Herbert Asquith appointed the Welsh wizard, Lloyd George, to solve the problem of home rule in Ireland. That went well. The Liberals might have been on the case for 100 years, but we have not seen very much delivered on it.

If my time as a minister 10 years and more ago taught me anything, it was that the jurisdictions in these islands can work together very well when they require to do so. Arrangements existed in my ministerial responsibilities whereby I had the right of veto. That was exercised responsibly on one occasion, and members never heard about it in Parliament because they did not need to. I found myself signing off the sale of land in Birmingham on one occasion because the British Waterways Board was a cross-border authority. Therefore, we can work together perfectly well. As a minister, I also represented the UK at the Polish Government economic conference. There are plenty of case histories and opportunities for working together. We sometimes hear rather more about the difficulties.

The report’s committee is excellent and I commend it, as others have. I want to go into one or two areas regarding paragraphs 42 and 43, which are on different possible approaches to the environment. Those differences are perfectly reasonable, because the different geography and climate north and south of the border might need different solutions. In the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee this morning, we talked about invasive species. The nature of that problem in Scotland is perhaps different from that in England or Wales. Therefore, it is not too surprising that there might be rather different solutions.

We have heard a lot from colleagues of all political persuasions in the Parliament about the role for Parliament, and I broadly agree with the way that Murdo Fraser characterised the need for that role. The committee dealt with that area in particular. Its report has six paragraphs of recommendations, which end by saying:

“We recommend that Parliament should have a formal role in relation to the process”.

I am quite content to support that.

Paragraph 172 refers to the need to involve external stakeholders in the development of common frameworks, and the report also refers to the need to involve them in the compliance mechanisms that relate to common frameworks. I would go a little bit further and say that we should look at the requirements of stakeholders. My constituency and parliamentary committee interests lead me to look at both fisheries and agricultural support.

On agricultural support, it is not surprising that we need different implementations of the EU common framework, and we would expect to have different implementations of a UK-wide common framework, because in Scotland, 85 per cent of our farming is in less favoured areas, whereas in England, only 15 per cent is, and 85 per cent is not. Therefore, the geography and the nature of the land that is farmed necessitate different solutions, not only in legislative, administrative and regulatory terms, but in the financial structures of support for industries in the agriculture sector.

On fisheries, we have the sea of opportunity—I led the debate on that subject not long after the 2016 referendum. If we depart from the common fisheries policy, we are clearly going to have the opportunity of controlling the area out to 200 miles from our coast. However, we cannot forget that Scotland-registered fishing boats will fish in other nations’ waters—England’s, Norway’s and those elsewhere. Therefore, we need a set of rules that apply to our interests, which may be somewhat different from those south of the border, where shellfish are one of the most important catches.

There is nothing unusual in requiring different solutions for different jurisdictions, while agreeing what we need to do within a common framework.

One of the important things about common frameworks is not just the rules but the funding streams. The common agricultural policy gives us a view of the funding for five, six or seven years ahead. We need a similar degree of certainty in the policy areas that I have spoken about, and I hope that we will find a way to achieve that.


11 September 2019

S5M-18571 Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18571, in the name of Alasdair Allan, on the 10th anniversary of Scottish food and drink fortnight. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the 10th anniversary of Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight, which this year runs from 31 August to 15 September 2019; welcomes the aims of the fortnight to encourage more people to buy, eat and promote Scottish food and drink, and have as many people as possible taking part in the nation’s biggest food and drink celebration, with events taking place throughout the country; acknowledges the growth in Scotland’s food and drink sector and the contribution it makes to the economy, with a record £14.8 billion turnover and £6.3 billion in exports; acknowledges the ambition of the national food and drink strategy, Ambition 2030, to double the value of the industry by 2030, and believes that Scotland has some of the most popular protected food name products in Europe, including Stornoway Black Pudding PGI, which make a unique contribution to what it considers its food and drink success story.


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

I congratulate Alasdair Allan on securing the debate. I add to his litany of constituency interests, as I first had spoots at Northton. They were harvested within a mile of where I was eating them—that is cutting down food miles. My constituency also has unusual and interesting things in it; it is where extra virgin rapeseed oil came to the fore, because of one of the farmers in my area.

I, too, offer congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Scottish food and drink fortnight. Of course, Scotland has wonderful seafood, Scotch whisky and much more. My constituency has multiple fishing ports and farms, and it even has four whisky distilleries: Knockdhu, Inchgower, Glenglassaugh and Macduff, which provide high-quality products and high-quality jobs.

Scotland has four of the largest fishing ports in the UK, and we account for almost all of the UK’s aquaculture production. Nearly 5,000 people work on Scotland-registered fishing vessels and 8,000 work in seafood processing—in both cases, many of those jobs are in rural areas. The Scotch whisky industry employs 10,000 people in Scotland, including 7,000 people in rural areas. Those are big numbers, and continued growth could make them even bigger. The efforts of ambition 2030 stand to be recognised, because the contributions that the food and drink industries make to our economy are heading in a most positive direction. When we eat and drink their products, we are eating and drinking the most healthy food on earth.

Our food exports have increased by 111 per cent since 2007, to £1.5 billion, with salmon and seafood leading the way. Capital investment is also going up. Across Scotland, there are improved distilleries, new distilleries, refettled distilleries and new visitor attractions. Farmed salmon is up by 16 per cent and Scotch whisky has increased in value by £153 million, to more than £4 billion. Its export value has grown by 7.8 per cent, with 40 bottles of whisky exported every second—that will be 9,600 bottles during this speech.

Our food and drink sector deserves to be toasted and celebrated. Scottish food and drink fortnight is an ideal expression of that, and I encourage the public to join in. I listened with interest to what Finlay Carson said. He mentioned the Stranraer oyster festival, which I was going to cite as an example of what is done in the south. The spirit of Speyside festival, in the north, is among the events that take place in my area.

It is important that we continue to support local food and drink. The sector is a massive success story for Scotland. It is diverse and omnipresent, and I am looking forward to tucking into some Scottish products later this evening, to augment the Scotland-sourced tacos that I had at lunch time.


S5M-18778 Citizens Assembly of Scotland

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-18778, in the name of Michael Russell, on the citizens assembly of Scotland.

... ... ...

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

We have heard interesting contributions from Conservative members. Adam Tomkins said that we in Parliament do not have all the answers, and I agree with him. However, Rachael Hamilton said that Parliament is the citizens assembly. Those are fundamentally different points of view, so there are obviously differences among views in the Tory party. We in the SNP have robust debates and ways of dealing with different points of view.

I want to start with the character and experience of one of the conveners of the assembly. I know one of them, but not the other. When David Martin was first elected as an MEP in the 1980s, he came to the Bank of Scotland to meet senior executives. I remember sitting round the lunch table—we were hospitable to him—to hear his questions and his responses, and the issues that he was raising with the bank. That was more than 30 years ago. The first thing that David Martin brings to the table is objectivity. The second is experience and the third is honesty in his political opinions—which are not my political opinions, but come from a different tradition.

If we attack the citizens assembly, we attack David Martin and his substantial record of public service, his preparedness to serve the public good and his preparedness to tackle the democratic deficit, or emergency, that undoubtedly exists in these islands. Today’s court judgment is just one part of the continuing failure of the UK’s democratic systems to solve major problems.

I absolutely support the Green Party proposal, which has been supported by Conservative members, to involve citizens more on the issue of climate change. I progressed the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill in 2009, for which we had unanimous support: I hope that we will get such support again. In an era of post-truth politics, in which climate change is an issue and globalisation is a matter of debate, our citizens must be part of deciding the future.

Who is taking a risk by establishing the citizens assembly? In Parliament, we have a majority in favour of independence. Those who support that objective—which is part of a wider agenda and does not stand on its own—are taking the risk that the citizens assembly, which is independent of Government and is chaired by a lifelong opponent of the political philosophy that I espouse, could come up with a conclusion that will make us desperately uncomfortable.

I believe that we will have convincing evidence and arguments that will lead the assembly to a different place. However, those of us who support Scotland’s independence are taking the risk. The fact that the Tories and the Liberal Democrats will not take such risks is very revealing.

We have an opportunity to recalibrate how our democracy works. What is before the assembly lays out the way in which to address issues, but the assembly is the master of its own destiny. The Liberal Democrat amendment does not disagree with the assembly’s remit, so I invite Liberal Democrats to endorse the motion in their concluding remarks. The word “independence” appears nowhere in it.

The UK’s general relationship with the devolved nations is changing; in England, there are huge tensions across geography and people’s different experiences in different parts. Citizens assemblies can be important in allowing countries to consider how they take themselves forward.

In Ireland, the removal of the eighth amendment to the constitution was a suitable subject for a citizens assembly to contribute to the subsequent referendum debate—and it was very successful. The referendum followed closely the recommendations of the assembly but—more to the point—participants said that it made them consider the impact of a proposal in ways that they never would have done before. It is important to rely on the deep reflections of fellow citizens who come without the baggage that every party politician here inevitably has. That brings honesty and openness to the deliberative process, so I congratulate our friends in Ireland for showing us the way to re-ignite thoughtful dialogue.

It is worth considering Brexit. If, three years ago, we had taken forward the post-2016 referendum deliberations via a citizens assembly, we would not have got ourselves tied up in the cul-de-sac that was created by the Prime Minister in January 2017, which has contributed to the failure of the political system to come to a meaningful conclusion.

This is not really a debate about the proposals from the Government for an assembly; it is about the credibility of David Martin—a man with whom I have often disagreed but whom I continue to respect.


05 September 2019

S5M-18695 European Union Exit (No Deal)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-18695, in the name of Michael Russell, on avoiding a no-deal exit from the European Union.

... ... ...

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

The Independent newspaper reports that

“some loud bloke who stunk of booze yelling at us”

is a description of how number 10 attempted to persuade 21 former Tory MPs to vote for Prime-Minister-in-name-only Johnson’s plans. The New York Times today describes this week as “a sobering week” for the Prime Minister—if only.

The cabinet secretary and others have confirmed that the EU has seen nothing by way of proposals from the UK Government.

Our colleague Donald Cameron is a serious man, with a demonstrated ability to think through complicated issues and break them down into solvable bite-size chunks—the attributes of the Scottish advocate down the ages. However, today’s amendment in his name falls substantially short of what his pupil master would have required of him in his days of training as an advocate.

Proper parliamentary procedures continue in the Scottish Parliament—they have been abandoned by a Prime Minister who is yet to win any vote in the house of which he should remember that he is a servant. Here, our duty is to offer sober-minded dissection of even the most obtuse proposal, so I will consider the three planks of Mr Cameron’s amendment.

First, we are asked to respect the referendum result. There has always been a fundamental conflict between the 2014 and 2016 referendums. A key reason why the argument for Scottish independence was lost in 2014 was the Scottish people’s attachment—later proved, in the 2016 vote—to our membership of the EU. The no campaign asserted that Scotland could remain in the EU only if it rejected independence. My side of the argument then lacked the ammunition that would convincingly rebut that—now provably implausible—argument.

In passing, I note that many of my constituents see opportunity—even a sea of opportunity—in leaving the common fisheries policy, which is a policy that only the SNP has always opposed. [Interruption.] The Tories had better keep listening. However, many of my constituents also see the ruin that awaits our fish processors as a result of Theresa May’s choice of the method of exit.

At 8.58 this morning, I received an email from the largest fish processing firm, which I am able to quote on the record. I will read out exactly what it says:

“The Scottish Conservatives today in Edinburgh Parliament will hit their normal drum of stating that the Conservatives are ‘champions’ of the Scottish Fishing Industry ... From my end I am very clear: leaving the EU without a deal will cause long term damage to the fishing industry, both the catching and onshore sector and will result in a considerable economic loss to our coastal communities. A ‘no deal Exit’ has to be avoided at all cost.”

It goes on:

“I wish you well in the debate ... all sectors of the Scottish economy will be adversely affected and damaged through the actions of a Conservative group of UK Ministers driven by a right wing ideology. It has to be stopped.”

That is from the fishing industry—the one area in Scotland that might have been expected to benefit from a proper exit. The industry clearly sees that what the Tories are progressing will not benefit it.

The conflict between the two referendums defeats the argument behind the first plank of the Tory amendment. The second plank is the call for a “negotiated exit”. We know that there is no negotiation, so no negotiated exit is in prospect. Mr Johnson is not negotiating. No proposals have been tabled. My long history of business negotiation has persuaded me that going into a negotiation with a blank sheet of paper and waving that paper under the noses of the people at the other side of the table does not progress the negotiation.

It is clear that Johnson has spent too much time with Trump and is adopting Trump’s relationship with truth, rationality and clarity.

On the third plank of the Tory amendment, I do not know how one reaches a deal when one refuses to allow civil servants to engage meaningfully with the EU and politicians carry blank sheets of paper to Brussels.

As Yogi Berra said:

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.”

As a lawyer, Donald Cameron will be familiar with the saying:

“A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

It is perhaps time to update that old saying: a man who journeys without a map will never know his destination.

The Tories: clueless; leaderless; mapless. The Tories: beyond reason; beyond parody; beyond hope.


13 June 2019

S5M-17660 Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17660, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

I rise to speak as someone who signed in support of the proposed bill, but who, having heard the evidence, has come to a disappointing conclusion—it is as disappointing for me as it will be for others.

Let us start with the fundamental thesis, which is a matter on which we will undoubtedly agree. There is European Union research that says that a human-car collision at 20mph has a 10 per cent probability of fatality. At 30mph, the probability of fatality rises to 40 per cent, and at 50mph, the probability is 100 per cent. We can draw the line on a chart: increasing speed in a collision causes deaths.

Those figures are for an adult being hit by a vehicle. I do not have equivalent figures for a child being hit by a vehicle. However, we should not think for a second that the effects would be substantially less severe. I think that we have a shared view—I am sure that Mike Rumbles would agree with this—that speed kills. The question is not so much whether there is a problem waiting to be solved and to which we should turn our attention as how we should solve that problem.

I have some numbers from other research. A 1 per cent increase in speed results in a 4 per cent increase in fatal accidents. The relationship between speed and the outcome of accidents is clear and unambiguous. The work of the committee absolutely recognised that.

We must be careful about what the bill does. There is a danger that we mislead ourselves on that. I confess that I have not looked at the detail of what the Welsh are proposing to do. I heard Mark Ruskell—whose every effort on the bill I utterly commend, without reservation—say that the Welsh are changing the national speed limit. However, the bill before us does not do that—it addresses only restricted roads.

Despite previously having been transport minister, I had never heard of restricted roads or knew what they were—it was not a distinction of which I was aware. Mike Rumbles referred to a restricted road as being a road that is not an A road or a B road and has lampposts no more than 185m apart. That properly covers most of the roads in most of our towns and villages where pedestrians, and young pedestrians in particular, are likely to be found.

John Finnie: I am very grateful to the member for taking a brief intervention. Given what he has just said, does he agree that it is astonishing that people, including the cabinet secretary, say that they do not know the total length of such roads?

Stewart Stevenson: Paragraph 140 of the committee’s report notes that the committee heard that

“21 per cent of local authorities have ... identified the roads that they would wish to switch to a 20mph limit and those on which they would retain a 30mph limit. Another 29 per cent say that they have the asset data to allow roads to be identified.”—[Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, 6 March 2019; c34.]

There is certainly a lot of ignorance out there about the state of our roads and I accept that that is a driver to do something about it. That is unambiguous. It is disappointing that the percentages are as low as reported at paragraph 140 of the committee report, because ignorance is not a good basis for policy making and action on the ground. I congratulate urban areas, such as Edinburgh, that have invested the time and effort in making the difference.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the evidence we heard that the introduction of a 20mph zone where the limit had previously been 30mph appears to result in only a 1mph reduction in average speeds. However, averages are not the whole story. I have to say that the real problem is what those who break the law do on a 20mph road compared to a 30mph road. I do not think that we took evidence that answered that question, but we probably instinctively believe—I instinctively believe—that someone who is going to break the law will break the law anyway. We should not therefore simply put the question of enforcement to one side.

Jamie Greene: I am listening with careful interest to my committee colleague. He started off by saying that he was a proposer and a proponent of the concept behind the bill. I am interested to learn what was the primary thing that made him change his mind and take the position that he now takes. It would be helpful to know that.

Stewart Stevenson: I was just about to come to that. It is a perfectly proper question that I should be asked, given my starting and ending points in the debate. It is also worth saying, in the interests of balance, that political colleagues who will speak from the SNP benches will give different views of the subject.

Ultimately, I was driven by the evidence to the conclusion that the bill is not the most straightforward way of achieving the objectives that it sets for itself. It might be easier to do that by changing the speed limit.

First, many villages have streets that do not have street lighting so, strictly speaking, they are not caught by the restricted road requirement. Mr Chapman and I could probably identify one or two.

Mark Ruskell: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The member is in his final minute.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry; I wanted to be helpful to Mr Ruskell.

Equally, many A or B roads go through many towns or villages and it would be appropriate to consider them for a 20mph limit.

The bill is a worthy attempt to address the issue, but it falls short in terms of capability of implementation and cost of implementation. I went through a little village close to me recently, and I counted that it would need 80 signs.

We must not take the pressure off the Government and the cabinet secretary to find a way forward, but I am not persuaded by the evidence that the bill is the way forward. I say that with grave disappointment, because I support the member’s objectives.


12 June 2019

S5M-16487 Housing Co-operatives

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16487, in the name of Johann Lamont, on a new report calling for more housing co-operatives in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Co-operatives UK report, Shared space—how Scottish housing co-ops build communities; notes that the report identifies significant benefits delivered by co-ops through the key themes of affordability, empowerment, community and stronger social housing; recognises that the report states that Scotland has just 11 registered housing co-ops, compared to 685 across the UK, at a time when 150,000 people are on council house waiting lists; agrees with the report’s findings that the decline of social housing stock in Scotland and parallel rise of the private rented sector has created a major challenge for those looking for affordable homes in the social rented sector; understands that the report highlights the excellent work of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op, based in the Glasgow region, as an example of a housing co-op creating “a safer estate with warmer, more attractive homes”; notes that the report has recommended an eight-point policy plan to help deliver more housing co-ops, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to encourage more housing co-ops in Scotland in order to create safer and stronger communities that offer affordable rents and more power to tenants.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Johann Lamont on securing the debate. Unusually—because these are not words that I often say—I also congratulate James Kelly, who I see is the author of the foreword to the report. The report is excellent, and it is a considerable credit to Parliament that a cross-party group can produce such a substantial contribution to a very important debate.

Johann Lamont referred to the imbalance between the number of housing co-ops in Scotland and the number south of the border. I am never afraid to pick up good ideas from wherever they come, including from south of the border, so I immediately turned to section 08 of the report to look at what it says. In my brief speech, I will not explore it in any great detail, but there are a considerable number of things to say.

The co-operative movement in housing is an important part of creating housing for people across Scotland. It can contribute a great deal to filling the gap that Scotland has suffered from—as the rest of the UK has—since the right to buy was introduced in 1980, which resulted in 2.6 million houses across the UK being sold out of public housing stock. Co-operative housing associations can play their substantial part in creating housing for people who otherwise find it difficult to get housing outside the private sector, in which housing is often very expensive and is not always of good quality, and in providing the living space that is essential for people who want a good standard of life.

Rent prices are going up, and people are being encouraged to invest in buy-to-let properties. The primary focus with such properties is the landlord’s interest in making a profit. In co-operative housing, the people who live in it are at the centre of decision making. That is right and proper, and it unlocks the potential of many people who have, in too much of their lives, little opportunity for their voices to influence the important things in their lives. Co-operatives in general, and housing co-operatives specifically, can make a particular difference to people’s quality of life. It is a neighbourly and collaborative way of making decisions that can encourage social bonds and collective responsibility, which strengthens society as a whole. When people in co-operative housing collectively decide what their priorities are for their area, the whole area gets something that is an example right across communities.

I was particularly interested in the example of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, which has been mentioned. Its work extends far beyond provision of housing. Johann Lamont referred to power bills being frozen, which comes from addressing fuel poverty—which has, of course, been before us in Parliament this week.

There is a challenge for young people, in particular. The number of young people who live in rented accommodation has risen and is higher than it was in my generation and in others that followed. It is important that we strike the appropriate balance between privately owned and social housing. Co-operatives can play a very important part in that strategy.

I think that Johann Lamont and I were both members of the Communities Committee—she was the convener and I was a humble back-bench member. I remember that time occasionally, with fondness. I remember her robust engagement on issues that came before the committee: she has always done that. I congratulate her again on bringing an important topic to Parliament and giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I also congratulate all the co-operatives and their members.


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