30 December 2020

S5M-23815 Trade and Co-operation Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Our debate is on motion S5M-23815, in the name of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on the trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

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

On 30 September 1938, Neville Chamberlain came off a plane at Heston airport in London after many days of fog. On 24 December 2020, Boris Johnson, like Neville Chamberlain, waved his bit of paper that represented the most gross and manifest capitulation to the interests of others. Neville Chamberlain at least was cheered along the Mall when he went to brief the monarch, although it did not last terribly long. Boris Johnson could not even arrange for a crowd to cheer this grubby little deal that we find ourselves debating today.

Ruth Davidson spoke to us about what she sees as the benefits of the deal, and she spoke about the headlines. However, the headlines may giveth but the small print taketh away. I have had to double the size of the print of the agreement where fishing is concerned, because the relevant numbers were in five-point print.

We have heard about the 25 per cent increase in quotas. There are 87 lines on pages 902 to 906 of the agreement and each of those lines shows a different stock with the outcomes for it between now and 2026 and beyond. How many of those lines show an uplift of at least 25 per cent? The answer is four: hake from the North Sea, hake from the western waters, horse mackerel from western and Norway pout. For the fish that are important to us—cod and haddock—the quota is going down. That is why skippers in the north-east of Scotland have been saying that this deal is worse than membership of the common fisheries policy. It is not a better deal.

Let us look at some of the other numbers. How many of the 87 lines on quota give the UK at least 50 per cent of the catch? The answer is 25. How many of those lines give us the 100 per cent of catch that we were promised as an independent coastal state? None. Not a single one. That is why there has been celebration across Europe. The EU got everything that it wanted. The Frankfurter Allgemeine quoted Douglas Adams in its headline yesterday—“So long, and thanks for all the fish”.

Of course, those of us who have read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” know that, when the most powerful computer was asked what the answer was to the most important question, the computer, after 3 million years of computation, came up with the answer “42”. By coincidence, in only 29 of the lines in this sell-out deal—a deal that is brought to us courtesy of Boris Johnson, the man who is master of not a single, dot, comma or matter of detail—is the UK’s percentage of quota as much as 42.

This is a shabby deal which, apart from the single exception that I have been able to find, sees skippers condemned without reservation. This shabby deal will place our fishermen—as well as our seed potato merchants—in a worse place than they have been in for decades.


23 December 2020

S5M-23326 Covid-19 (Loneliness and Social Isolation)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The first item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S5M-23326, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on understanding the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on loneliness and social isolation. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

We are a bit pushed for time today so please stick to the timings.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it considers the damaging impact of social isolation and loneliness throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; considers that it has had a pronounced effect on older and vulnerable people; understands that studies have shown that, in the long term, it can be as bad for human health as smoking or obesity; acknowledges the recent University of Stirling study, which found that 56% of people said social distancing had made them more lonely; notes the concerns raised in the recent British Red Cross report, Lonely and left behind: Tackling loneliness at a time of crisis, that 32% of UK adults agree that they worry something will happen to them and no one will notice; commends the British Red Cross’s work, especially in Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire with the Coronavirus Resilience Calendar, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government to consider the report’s recommendations in full in order to tackle social isolation and improve mental health and wellbeing.

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

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate and giving me the opportunity to talk about this important subject.

Today, as it did yesterday and will do for the days to come, Covid-19 erodes the human spirit and hard times are here for us all. The burden is physical, mental and, for many, spiritual; and the weight continues to bear down on us all. It is hard to accept—it is not rational and not chosen—and people across the planet are struggling. That is no wonder, because Covid-19 has hammered our global society, stealing the lives of family and friends, and it is direct, violent and destructive.

To slow Covid’s rampant advance, we have been forced to adopt social distancing and other necessary measures so that we may somehow reduce or allay its destructive force. However, we are a social species, and those measures come at a cost. That cost is social isolation and loneliness. According to the British Red Cross’s report “Lonely and left behind”, more than half of adults say that reduced social contact has made life harder, and two thirds say that concerns about coronavirus have caused them to minimise their interactions, even when the rules permit it. What is worse is that two fifths of adults across the UK report that they have not had a meaningful conversation in the past fortnight.

Those are clear signs of a deteriorating psyche, with serious consequences. For the vulnerable, that is even more the case. Unable to see their friends and families, their lives are affected more than most, and the insidious force of loneliness penetrates, pervasive and enduring. Confidence decays, hope begins to hollow and wellbeing vanishes. We are trapped in the dark, suffering alone and under immense stress, for the simple reason that we cannot hold our loved ones or have the luxury of seeing our friends.

That comes with physical costs as well as mental costs. When someone needs support, it is in our nature to offer a hand. When others speak, we should—and mostly do—listen. We laugh together and we cry together. Our connection is obvious. We depend on each other, and that is what gives our lives meaning. The pandemic has shaken that.

There are solutions, though. We just need to innovate. Thankfully, that is happening. Vaccines are being created and new ways to connect, such as the one that we are using today, are being developed.

I join my colleague in commending the British Red Cross on its creation of a coronavirus resilience calendar. That is the kind of impressive innovation that we need, and I hope that it will be shared with others. I also agree that the calls by the Red Cross are well made. This is a far-reaching issue.

In my youth, Christmas day was a working day that was not much different from normal days, but it has become a day for family and for connection. We should all do what we can to help those who are lonely and affected by this dreadful virus and their lack of contact with other human beings.


09 December 2020

S5M-23117 Bus Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23117, in the name of Graham Simpson, on bus service cuts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is concerned that hundreds of bus services in Scotland have been cut since March 2020; notes the support given to bus companies by the Scottish Government during the COVID-19 pandemic, but considers that, despite this, many parts of the country, including the Central Scotland region, have been left without an adequate service, and acknowledges that the Scottish Government has yet to commence Part 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to allow local authorities to bring forward proposals for the provision of bus services in their area.

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

I thank Graham Simpson for bringing this subject to Parliament. I was green with envy to hear that there is a half-hourly bus service in his local area. In my local village, the only service is the 301, heading broadly east and west, and we would dearly love to have a half-hourly service. On one occasion when I wanted to catch a train, I travelled cross-country from the second village away on the only bus that was running on a Sunday. During my entire hour and a half on that bus, I was the only passenger. Bus services are important because they are important for individual passengers. The bus does not need to be filled for it to be an important service.

It is as well—particularly for Graham Simpson and those with his political viewpoint—to remind ourselves why we have a very successful municipally owned bus service in Edinburgh and why we basically do not have the same elsewhere in Scotland. It is simply because his political party caused bus services to be sold off.

I used the excellent Aberdeen bus service as a student, normally travelling on the number 10 route. It was a very effective, frequent and affordable service. However, it was sold off. Where did the profits from that go? They did not go back into Aberdeen to invest in bus services. Edinburgh managed to retain the asset in the form of the successful Lothian Buses, which I use on a not regular but not irregular basis.

If councils across Scotland or Strathclyde Partnership for Transport were to start their own bus companies, that would involve very substantial capital investments to recoup the amount of money that was given away, in essence, by privatising the previous municipal bus services.

I was astonished to hear Graham Simpson complaining that there are 50 private bus companies operating in Strathclyde—almost with the suggestion that he wants to replace them with one municipal one. I am not saying that I necessarily disagree with that proposal, but it is fundamentally more difficult than he was perhaps suggesting in his speech.

Another thing that Graham Simpson referred to, which is perfectly correct, is that there are ways to provide local support for bus services other than by running your own bus services, including by supporting individual routes. The one that I referred to, on which I travelled on a Sunday, was a council-supported route that would not be there if the council was not investing in it. A key question that we must ask ourselves, however, and to which I do not have the answer, is what the cost will be per passenger per journey for councils that support individual routes that are contracted to private operators, or community bus services for that matter, or that invest the substantial capital amount involved in setting up their own bus companies.

We are looking at the lack of—[Inaudible.]—Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. In relation to municipally owned and operated bus services, we need high standards of governance and supervision of what is quite a substantial undertaking for a local council to contemplate, so I am not hugely surprised that it will take a while to introduce the commencement order for that facility.

The subject is a very proper one to be brought to the Parliament, but I think that it might be more complex than Graham Simpson has perhaps provided for in his motion and in his speech.


02 December 2020

S5M-23347 International Whole Grain Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23347, in the name of Stewart Stevenson, on recognising the importance of whole grains on international whole grain day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament acknowledges International Whole Grain Day, which takes place on 19 November 2020; notes that whole grain consumption has a positive impact on nutrition, wellbeing, sustainability and has a proven role in reducing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer; understands that, according to the Scottish Government, current fibre intakes in Scotland are sitting at an average of 16 grams per day and would have to nearly double to meet the recommended dietary guideline of 30 grams per day; believes that wholegrain foods have an important part to play in helping people achieve the 30g goal for daily fibre intake; notes calls for public awareness campaigns on the benefits of whole grains, the need for an agreed definition on what should be considered whole grain foods, and for front of pack labelling schemes to recognise fibre, and considers Whole Grain Day an excellent opportunity to encourage healthier eating habits and create dialogue around how eating habits can improve lives.


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

International whole grain day takes place on 19 November each year. Yes, we are a wee bit late with our debate—but it is still an important topic. The annual celebration seeks to raise awareness of the health and environmental benefits of whole grain. This year is only its second in existence, so it is my great pleasure to bring the topic to Parliament, I think for the first time. I thank colleagues from all political parties for their support.

I am very happy to celebrate whole grains. In fact, I regularly do, whether it is with a warm bowl of oats, which I have every single morning of my life, a crisp slice of wholegrain toast, which I have a little less regularly, and even some tasty wholegrain pasta, which might be my tea tonight.

As colleagues know, it is not hard for me to find something that I can be enthusiastic about eating—but in moderation, of course, in order to contain my circumference within appropriate bounds. Is not the point that whole grains have an important role to play in keeping us all healthy?

What is whole grain and how does it contribute to keeping us healthy? It is a grain that has not been refined—it is the entire seed of the plant. Thus intact, perhaps as nature intended, it maintains a richer nutrient profile and contains higher levels of fibre, which is particularly good for the bowels—if that is a permitted word in the debate, Presiding Officer.

The potential health impacts are significant. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations identify low intake of whole grains as the leading dietary risk factor in the majority of WHO regions. Therefore, it is particularly worrying that Scotland’s consumption of whole grains remains low.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab): Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: He certainly will, and with great pleasure.

Elaine Smith: Will Stewart Stevenson join with me in assuring people who are listening to the debate that they can also have gluten-free wholegrain products?

Stewart Stevenson: Elaine Smith is absolutely correct. I know how important gluten-free food is for many people. In my previous professional life, I worked with a number of people for whom it was important, and one of my current staff members must eat gluten-free food. The member has made an important point.

The WHO talks about eating 25g to 29g of dietary fibre daily. Doing so can lead to a 15 per cent to 30 per cent decrease in cardiovascular-related mortality, incidence of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. However, the potential health benefits go significantly beyond that. Wholegrain carbohydrates tend to be released more slowly, which makes them a great source of fuel and promotes satiety after eating, which means that one feels full for longer, which prevents one from snacking. That all helps to promote healthier eating and healthier living. What is more, grains currently account for almost 50 per cent of all the calories that are consumed globally. Therefore, consuming whole grains would involve a shift only in how we consume, not in what we consume.

In a wider context, our eating habits can play a role in our healthcare system. Improving our eating habits can lead to major relief for the system, which proves—as is often the case—that many preventative measures are in our own hands, through our diet.

Exercising regularly, eating healthily and other factors can help us to reduce stress, which is particularly important at the moment, when we are more socially isolated, and therefore under more mental pressure.

Whole grains can also help with sustainability, because wholegrain foods save water. Whole grains provide more food, produce less waste, and support better land use and healthier soil. They are healthy for us all, and for the planet.

There are answers to the question of how we can encourage people to eat more whole grains. A great example of how to do so is Denmark. My Danish nephew is headmaster of a school there, so I know that its Government has worked with industry and health organisations to promote whole grains. Those partners developed a scientific recommendation for the average daily intake of whole grains, as well as a new wholegrain food logo to signal products to consumers, which also guarantees the quality of products that are so marked.

Consumer awareness campaigns, with the involvement of athletes and celebrities, have made a significant contribution. The average wholegrain intake in Denmark has increased from 36g to 82g per day, and 50 per cent of the public meet the recommended intake, compared with 11 years ago, when only 6 per cent did so. Denmark is a country that is not dissimilar to our own, so it can be done. In Denmark, in 2009, 150 products carried the logo—today, more than 1,000 products do so. Seventy-one per cent of the Danish population recognise what the logo means, and 53 per cent look for the logo when making purchases. Other countries can teach us things that we might copy.

As part of reducing pressure on our health service, we need to innovate. Whole grains are one contributor to how we might do so, and the debate is a chance to consider how we might enhance their value. We should think about developing an accepted definition of wholegrain foods that would apply in Scotland, and we should consider our quantitative intake recommendations, public health campaigns, labelling and how we encourage people to choose whole grains.

It is worth saying that, hundreds of years ago, students would go to university with a sack of oats over their shoulder. The oats fed the student for an entire term—they did not eat anything else, because they could not afford to—and kept them going for that entire term without any great difficulty.

Presiding Officer, whole grains are where it’s at.


26 November 2020

S5M-23343 Tied Pubs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23343, in the name of Neil Bibby, on the Tied Pubs (Scotland) Bill.

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

I express my empathy for the bill’s principles. My grandfather will be spinning in his grave at a high rate of knots because he was a member of the Independent Order of Rechabites, which a long time ago was a home for people who were teetotallers and campaigned against the evils of drink.

However, I have significant issues with the way in which the bill is drafted. I have come to it relatively late. My starting point is always to look at the bill itself. The first point that I address is a straightforward and simple one that could easily be remedied. On page 1 of the bill, the regulatory principles are stated to include

“the principle of fair and lawful dealing by pub-owning businesses”.

It is extraordinary that a piece of legislation should legislate to say that people must obey the law, so I would simply take those words out.

That is a comparatively trivial matter, but bigger issues emerge when we consider the definitions of “tied pub” in section 20 and “tied-pub tenant” and “pub-owing business” in section 21. I am taken back to what happened after the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 1991 was passed, when we saw the introduction of the limited partnership as a way of bypassing the provisions of that act, meaning that the owner of the land could terminate the relationship at any time. The way in which the bill that is before us is drawn would present similar difficulties if we were to have pub-owing businesses that wanted to act in a certain way.

For example, it might be possible to say that, if someone wants to operate a pub that is owned by someone else, they will have to become a shareholder in a shared company. That would not create the relationship of landlord and tenant on which the bill relies, but it would still create the opportunity, within the company organisation that had been established, to create a dependency such that people had to buy their beer from a particular source.

The second thing that one might do if one wanted to thwart the way in which the definitions currently operate might be to operate through a sub-tenancy, in that the tenant could be allowed to create sub-tenancies. It appears that, as the bill is currently structured, that might break the link on which it depends between the landlord being a pub-owning business and the tenant, because the tenant would not necessarily be a pub-owning business. Indeed, it would merely be a tenant of another company.

There are some practical difficulties, but that does not mean that we should vote against the principles of the bill if our judgment is that it is possible to amend the bill at stages 2 and 3 to remedy those difficulties and some other rather substantial difficulties that I think there are with the bill, because when I look at something and I find such straightforward ways of thwarting the means of the bill, I carry with me quite considerable doubt. However, my ingenuity as a non-legally qualified person is substantially less than that of others, so I hope that Parliament will look at the bill carefully as it proceeds through stages and 2 and 3, as I expect it will. I support the principles of the bill and I will vote for it, with some reluctance, at decision time.


25 November 2020

S5M-23445 Legal Advice (Publication)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23445, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on legal advice.

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

I start by agreeing with Murdo Fraser when he sympathised with the complainers, which was entirely proper.

Let us look at precedents in relation to the disclosure of legal advice. It is worth saying that these precedents all stem from a period when Jackie Baillie sat in the Government and Alex Cole-Hamilton’s colleagues sat beside her.

Answer number 1 was to Alex Neil:

“The Scottish Executive does not generally disclose the legal advice it may have taken on any particular matter. Any such advice would, in any case, be confidential.”—[Written Answers, 14 March 2006; S2W-23743.]

Answer 2 was to me:

“Our policy is not to publish the legal advice we receive, this being covered by solicitor-client confidentiality.”—[Written Answers, 18 January 2007; S2W-30908.]

Answer 3 was to Christine Grahame:

“certain categories of information are exempt from the commitment to provide information ... This includes legal advice.”—[Written Answers, 11 February 2003; S1W-33541.]

Finally, answer 4 was to Fergus Ewing:

“I am not prepared to divulge the terms of the legal advice to Scottish ministers and I am unable to provide the legal advice obtained”.—[Written Answers, 15 June 2004; S2W-08398.]

The Tory motion asks for the Government to provide the legal advice “without any further delay”. A look at the Tory record on disclosing information might tell us whether today’s motion represents gross hypocrisy, opportunism or legal blindness.

One way of learning about what is going on in Government is via freedom of information. The freedom of information legislation is particularly dear to me because the training material that was prepared for officials contained a quote from one of my parliamentary speeches on the subject.

I will give some numbers that illustrate how the Tories, to use a word in their motion, “respect” honouring such requests only in the breach. The percentage of requests granted in full by the Tories in government has declined every year since 2010, from a high of 62 per cent in 2010 to 44 per cent in 2019. The percentage of requests withheld in full has steadily increased from 21 per cent in 2010 to 35 per cent in 2019. Last year, United Kingdom Government departments upheld their original decision in 83 per cent of internal reviews—that is the highest proportion in the past decade. The trend towards greater secrecy in the UK Government is unmistakable, and it has been led by the largest and most powerful Whitehall departments. In the past five years, the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Home Office have all withheld more requests. I got those figures from a report that was published yesterday by openDemocracy, which reveals that Tory minister Michael Gove’s department has a skunk team that was specifically established to prevent us from knowing what goes on in the Tory Government.

I have not been able to find a single example of legal advice being published, north or south of the border, where the matter relates to litigation. Yes, Governments do occasionally publish legal advice—to be fair to the Tory Government, it did so in 2018 in relation to advice on Brexit—but never advice relating to litigation.

The protection of legal professional privilege is vital to all parties to legal actions. The demand that is being made in relation to this piece of legal advice is simply a cover for the fact that the Tories are unable to properly question witnesses.

At the committee’s most recent meeting on 17 November, the Lord Advocate said:

“That will not prevent me from giving evidence to the committee today about the Government’s legal position from time to time in relation to the judicial review.”—[Official Report, Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, 17 November 2020; c 2.]

Murdo Fraser said that the Lord Advocate refused to answer 27 times, but that is not correct. Only three questions were asked of him, and he repeatedly gave the same answer. The Tories’ failure today lies in them not finding the right questions. After all, the Lord Advocate said that he would answer questions about the Government’s legal position. Because they do not have the questions, we can be certain that seeing legal advice could not answer their questions.

Gross hypocrisy, opportunism or legal blindness? All three, Presiding Officer, all three.


19 November 2020

S5M-23416 Coronavirus (Scotland’s Strategic Approach)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23416, in the name of John Swinney, on coronavirus: Scotland’s strategic approach.

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

The pandemic continues to blight our planet and test our endurance as weeks have turned into months. As someone with a higher potential vulnerability by reason of age, I express my gratitude to the public, both personally and as a representative of a community of people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons.

The pandemic has always been a public health emergency. The huge majority of our population recognises it in such terms, and we, in Parliament, need to recognise it as such. We honour and respect the work that people across our communities have done in protecting us from the worst excesses of the pandemic.

It is necessary to create legal frameworks for that minority of people who wish to test the boundaries of what is permissible. However, the legal frameworks need to follow the public health action. The great majority of people are doing the sensible thing, and we should thank them all. We should do nothing that suggests to them that their commitment and action—or their inaction—are not valued; they absolutely are.

The strategic framework helps us to understand what we must and must not do. Inevitably, if a concise view is to be produced of what is happening that might be presented in a single A4 page, of necessity it will not provide all the detail that might be found in a legal document. Frankly, no person in our communities will go and read the legal documents.

There is good news: vaccines are coming along. We hear that they have encouraging outcomes, although, of course, we do not know how long the post-jab immunity will last. That is just one of many things that we do not know about this pandemic or about creating immunity in individuals. However, each development moves us a little closer to a point at which we may be able to get a pharmacological grip on the pandemic. We already know that previous inoculations for viral infections are much more limited in their effect than those for bacterial infections. For example, an injection against cholera is required every year.

The bottom line is that protecting lives is the absolute priority for all legislators and for all people in our communities. Money cannot protect our citizens. The actions of citizens who limit their contact with other people is going to make the very real difference. It is nothing more than that, in any sense.

Of course, there is no point in protecting the community if we do not make sure that there is an economy after the pandemic, so we have to provide appropriate support to businesses. I am very fortunate in that about 15 per cent of my constituency is in level 1 and the rest is in level 2. Others, in the central belt, have more substantial problems. However, even in my area, as Gillian Martin mentioned, hotspots in some food-processing factories are giving us concern. I think that the incident management teams are doing an absolutely first-class job in working their way around that.

I thank the Government and the population for everything that they are doing. I will support the motion and the Green amendment tonight.


12 November 2020

S5M-23289 Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23289, in the name of Gordon Lindhurst, on the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics (Scotland) Bill.

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

I will immediately respond to one part of Jackie Baillie’s contribution. There is no “secrecy” about any of the statistics that are part of this debate. The issue is merely who gets access and when. All the statistics are published.

Is it a question of best practice to remove pre-release access to statistics? If so, why does it not apply to all four types of economic stats that are mentioned in the report? Indeed, why does it not apply right across Government? I understand what the committee convener said about the bill being a compromise position, and Jackie Baillie might be relatively correct in describing the bill as “timid”.

The bill will bring some aspects of statistics in Scotland into line with the UK. Is that by coincidence or design? I do not think that it matters much. I recognise that a variety of statistics authorities—we have heard an exhaustive list of them—believe that pre-release access should end, and they highlight trust. That is a perfectly valid point, but what impact would removing the Government’s pre-release access have on trust and leadership? That is a question that I will not try to answer, but there should be some reflection on the matter, because good government is important, as is good governance.

Ministers generally do not comment on one single aspect of a report—not least because Opposition parties and the media will be able to see the whole report too, and can comment on anything that they like to comment on. When Governments comment, it is often in relation to making a commitment. Opposition parties, on the other hand, make no such commitments. There are such distinctions between the Government and the Opposition.

The next point that I want to address is the process by which pre-release access was removed from the UK Government. That was done by the Office for National Statistics. The ONS is an arm’s-length agency that has discretion to do what it did independently. It was not prompted to do so by any action of Government or by legislation.

The situation in Scotland is a bit different, but the chief statistician is equally independent. Part of that independence is discretion relating to issues such as pre-release. What impact does legislating on actions that are within the remit of the chief statistician say about the chief statistician? Instead of bestowing powers on that position, it will put handcuffs on the chief statistician by making them do something that Parliament has dictated. That is hardly maintaining the independence of the chief statistician. It would be perfectly reasonable to draw their attention to the matter and to ask that they review their current practice. However, I think that we all agree that this is not about the integrity of the Scottish Government statistician.

As the convener did, I will use a bit of Latin. Facta, non verba—or deeds, not words. If we legislate, it is almost implicit that we are criticising the practice of the chief statistician in relation to powers that he already has. We should urge him to use them, but let us leave him wholly independent of Government and—equally—of Parliament. It is difficult to support the bill as it stands, but it might be possible to amend it in order to maintain the chief statistician’s proper independence.

Let me stand the argument on its head. If the argument is that the Government should not be handed an advantage, then rules whereby the Opposition gets access at the same time, but under embargo, and whereby it is not able to issue any press releases until the release of statistics, would be another way of doing it. I do not think that the Government will necessarily thank me for saying that, but there are other ways of dealing with what is a perceived problem, which statisticians share.

Finally, I note that Maurice Golden trotted out the old GERS shibboleth. If GERS figures tell us that Scotland is not doing well, that is not a great argument for the union. Maurice Golden should think again about that particular argument.


10 November 2020

S5M-23291 Remembrance Commemorations

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23291, in the name of Graeme Dey, on remembrance commemorations.

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

It is a privilege to be here and to speak in a debate of this kind. That privilege is, of course, entirely due to the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of people who have gone before us to protect our freedom.

One of my hobbies is researching my family tree. I have been doing so for more than 50 years, so I am able to say that I have 38 relatives in my family tree who died in various conflicts. Every other member who has spoken will have similar numbers; they just have not done the research to find them all. Mine range from first cousins of my father, to great uncles and to someone as distant as a seventh cousin.

On the library shelf that is beside me I have a naval telescope from the first world war, which was one of my father’s cousin’s telescopes. He was with my father and the rest of the family on the Black Isle when the siren went to recall him back to Invergordon and his duty on the minesweeper that was based there. The minesweeper left port but never returned, because it collided with a mine and was blown up. That telescope is the tangible memory of that member of our family.

The Covid crisis has caused me, and many others, to do much more walking. Within the compass of the walks that I have been able to undertake from my home here in Banffshire I pass four war memorials. The closest is half a mile away, the next is about two miles away, and so on.

I also pass graveyards in which there are graves that are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. During the debate, we have so far not heard any reference to its work. Around the world there are memorials to those who fell in the wars. Those memorials are maintained to the highest and most impeccable standards, and with the most fulsome and appropriate records kept in books that people can inspect at most of them.

It was quite a long time ago, in 1978, that I went to the most poignant one that I have ever visited. It was about 20 miles north of what was then called Rangoon, in Burma. There was a Commonwealth grave there. It was a huge cemetery, and every blade of grass was cut to exactly the same height. It was impeccably kept, and the contrast with the state of the Burmese country at that point—where I could get only a 48-hour visa and only one hotel in the country was working—could not have been more stark. The efforts made in that very difficult environment to respect our war dead were extremely impressive indeed.

My ancestors and relatives fell at the Somme, Passchendaele, Ypres, Flanders, Normandy and around the world.

We have talked about all the men who fell, but there are also women on war memorials, although rather fewer. I would like to remember in particular the women who served as agents in enemy-occupied Europe. Because they were solitary, they made an even greater sacrifice than many who fell on our battlefields. It is a time to remember and a time for gratitude.


05 November 2020

S5M-23243 Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-23243, in the name of Ash Denham, on the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

We live in a society that is built on free speech and the exchange of ideas and information. By the same token, however, we live in a society in which there are increasing levels of harmful, false information.

In addition, people around the world can express their thoughts on a scale that is unparalleled in human history. There are more and more platforms that people can use to publish their thoughts, and views that are expressed are almost instantly subject to the court of public opinion. A random thought can be seen by millions of people in almost no more than an instant, and the mechanisms for expressing our observations and critiques continue to grow.

In stating that, I hope that I have conveyed specifically that the world of communication continues to become more complex and diverse. That carries with it significant challenges. I believe that there are two important principles to which we should adhere: the first is simplicity and the second is balance. The general public will not generally read legislation, but, when they do, they should be able to understand it.

The bill encourages both simplicity and balance. One way in which it encourages simplicity is through the increased clarity of the situation in law. The ambiguity in our current legislation and case law can further complicate an already complex landscape. By stating clearly that any statement must be communicated to a third party and must cause serious harm to someone’s reputation, the bill will reduce the burden of interpretation on all parties. I do not seek to bring Mr Wightman’s personal experience to the chamber in saying that, but, although I will read his words carefully, I probably disagree with them.

In the ever-evolving global communications landscape, all of that is essential. Removing needless complexity will ensure that energy and resources are focused on the elements that cannot be pared down so easily.

Furthermore, I highlight the importance of improving the defence for secondary publishers. I published my first website 27 years ago, so I have a particular interest in that area. Platforms, and the way in which information travels, have changed drastically over the 20-plus years since I first engaged with them. Thirty years ago, far fewer of us on this planet had access to powerful tools, and someone had to own a newspaper to have the kind of power that is at almost everyone’s fingertips today, although our understanding of how to engage with the new platforms has moved on more slowly than the evolution of the platforms themselves. Nevertheless, we have an improvement in the defence for secondary publishers. It provides clarity and places responsibility with those who actually write the words and have creative control, which is where it should lie.

In relation to balance, the bill also makes an important movement towards free speech. Specifically, it does that through the single publication rule and the one-year limit. Together, those provisions ensure that people do not have to fear legal consequences for statements that did no significant harm at the time of publishing but may be less well received in a future context. We need to protect the soil for honest social discourse, and the bill tips the balance towards free speech in an important way. Therefore, I suggest that it is a positive evolution in how defamation and malicious publication are dealt with.

The bill does not place inhibition on anyone criticising politicians. It has been said that the reputation of a politician cannot be damaged because they have none to lose. Perhaps we can raise ourselves off the floor with the bill.


03 November 2020

S5M-23194 Arts Funding

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The next item of business is a Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee debate on motion S5M-23194, in the name of John McAlpine, on arts funding.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate our convener on turning Marcel Marceau’s art on its head; the convener engaged us without images, whereas Marcel Marceau did so without speech.

More critically, like others, I affirm the importance of the arts. They take many forms and achieve many things. They can help us to cope, educate us, illuminate truth, create joy and sorrow, and even reveal who we are and change who we are.

My spouse is particularly keen on that last one, as she has the view that I am one of the least artistic and least cultural people she knows. She welcomes my very recent elevation to the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee.

My personal art is photography—I take wonderful photographs. Who knows? You might agree.

The havens of art—theatres, museums and music halls—are basically unable to operate in the current environment, as we have been hearing. Clearly, that is the right decision in the face of a health crisis, but we should recognise that art maintains a crucial role in creating community—in creating a shared experience.

How will we deal with the pandemic without art? The psychological challenge that we now face might be healed by an artistic re-emergence after this sad history is over. With many months of not being able to congregate with others, to laugh with others and to be emotionally stirred by those who bring art into our homes and who bring us into theatres, art will continue to have an important role in getting us through all this. It can play a key part in healing the common sorrow that we have felt through the loss of friends and loved ones, and by being out of contact with our many friends. It is more important than we sometimes realise until we experience that loss.

It would be a grave mistake to allow art and the people who create the arts for us to wither on the vine. We need to ensure, for one thing, that we have measurements that enable us to justify some of the things that we will have to do. Specifically, I agree with the committee’s recommendation that we should establish a cultural observatory, which could draw together data to measure the spread and impact of the public funding of the arts across Scotland. If we are to achieve progress and success, we need to be able to measure it—but not to exclude particular parts from the system, because we want risk to be taken, with some things not doing as well as we might hope. If we do not know the baselines, however, we do not know when we have departed from them.

I support the recommendation that culture spend be disaggregated and provided separately, away from tourism. That would help us all to understand what we are spending at all levels of public life; it would enable us to make a proper assessment of what is going on.

We can look abroad. I am wearing my Democrat outfit today—everything is blue apart from the poppy—and, according to the arts and cultural production satellite project, which is based over there, in 2017 the arts sector in New York was worth £120 billion and in California it was worth £320 billion. That covers a range of arts.

As a recently joined member of the committee, I congratulate my predecessors on their efforts, to which I made absolutely no contribution. They were worthy efforts and worthy of debate.


28 October 2020

S5M-23100 Energy Inquiry

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23100, in the name of Gordon Lindhurst, on behalf of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, on its energy inquiry.

... ... ...

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

I start by reminding Liam McArthur that some ministers know about bad weather, especially snow.

However, to move to the subject in hand, I join others in thanking the committee for its work on this subject; as Brexit approaches and the economic impact of Covid-19 is felt, these issues become even more important than they were at the beginning of the year. The focus on electric vehicle infrastructure is important, because transport continues to be such a difficult sector to decarbonise; getting the right infrastructure in place is essential.

However, dealing with the engineering and technology is only part of the challenge; a change in the behaviour of people in the population is also required. Such things require that little phrase, “buy-in”. The report recognises that, and I believe that we cannot guarantee that buy-in; if we do not get it, we will have a problem, so how do we generate buy-in?

The report references the idea of local energy in Scotland and of active community buildings—places where people could go to see, touch and experience technology. Familiarity with such things and understanding why and how certainly play a role in motivating people to action. Therefore, these are the types of ideas that we should continue to support. However, buy-in can also take the form of ensuring that people are, at the very least, no worse off and, at best, better off, than they were before.

One way to ensure that is of course the just transition that others have referred to. There are huge opportunities for things such as carbon capture and storage in my constituency. Carbon capture and storage represents an excellent transition technology. Indeed, it would ensure many jobs for those skilled workers who are currently working in the oil and gas sector. However, there are many ways in which we can create buy-in beyond that. We should simply ensure that we work the equation from the various angles that it lends itself to.

Finally, I will briefly mention the idea of energy security, which is considered in the report. The report mentions the implications of exiting the European Union and the fact that 40 per cent of Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Both circumstances present the possibility of complications with energy issues but there is also the issue of the carbon cost of having to import from countries that are perhaps not as well established in their own climate change goals. It is not just a question of the lights going out but a question of potentially exacerbating the climate change issue. Therefore, once again, I believe that increasing our levels of energy independence is an important part of energy security. In other words, we should import carbon-neutral fuel. However, the basis of our expansion into that ideal position would first be built on the strength of our own energy security.


27 October 2020

S5M-22506 Student Paramedics (Bursary Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22506, in the name of Liam McArthur, on paying student paramedics. The debate will conclude without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the campaign to introduce bursary support for student paramedics from Orkney and across Scotland; appreciates the pivotal role that paramedics have played in meeting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that student paramedics have stepped up at a time of great need; acknowledges that student paramedics, unlike student nurses and midwives, currently have no access to a bursary scheme to support them during their degree course; notes that the campaign has been started by a group of student paramedics to highlight this discrepancy and press for equivalent funding to be made available to all Scottish student paramedics; understands that student paramedics are expected to work the same hours as a fully qualified paramedics and therefore have limited time to take on additional work to fund their studies; believes that the lack of financial support discourages many young people, particularly those from low-income families, from considering a career as a paramedic; understands that the Pay Student Paramedics campaign has highlighted that, last year, the Scottish Ambulance Service was unable to cover 42,000 shifts; further understands that there were calls on the Scottish Government to do more to widen access to this key profession within Scotland’s health service by offering financial assistance to trainee paramedics through a bursary scheme, and believes that this would be fair recognition of the contribution that paramedics make to the NHS.

... ... ...

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

I congratulate Liam McArthur on securing this evening’s debate on a subject that is important not just in Orkney but right across Scotland. It is particularly important to rural areas such as the one that I represent. I express my unreserved support for the sentiment of the motion, without necessarily agreeing with every word that Liam McArthur said.

I will start by making the point that we must recognise the immense stress that paramedics face. In some ways, I am an amateur—over the years, I have attended road accidents on three occasions simply through being present by accident. On one of those occasions, there were two fatalities. Therefore, on a tiny level, I understand some of the pressure that the young people concerned are under.

In the ordinary world, the stress on the profession is significant, but in the current circumstances it is even higher. That is compounded by the fact that we are talking about students rather than people who are fully qualified, seasoned veterans of many years’ experience or people who have learned to cope with and face situations that most people would struggle with. They are at the beginning of their career journey and are only beginning to build the personal resilience that they will need throughout their time as paramedics.

The stress that comes with the profession is augmented by the stresses of student life, which include the demands of having to learn and to pass exams. As we heard from Liam McArthur, student paramedics’ placement activity causes disruption because it is not neatly fitted in with the learning activities that they must undertake and the need that many students have to earn some outside income to supplement their student means. In addition, like others in the profession, they will experience loneliness, overwork and a degree of uncertainty, and they will do so to a much greater extent in the era of Covid-19.

Despite that, there are people up and down Scotland who are working courageously on the front line with the emergency services during the current pandemic. They are doing so on a full-time basis, near enough, and they are unpaid. They are essential, front-line staff in the pandemic.

Are there ramifications of that? Others have suggested that student paramedics are given a hard choice between doing additional jobs and living in poverty. In either case, that is a source of considerable stress. How might they respond to that? We might lose some of them to other careers. That would be deeply regrettable, and we do not want that to happen. Is there competition for jobs at the moment? Yes, there is, but that is no excuse for approaching the issue in a way that could be considered to be exploitative.

All those factors are important considerations in enabling people to stay in the profession and progress their professional qualification, and in encouraging others to come and join them in the role. The Ambulance Service has suffered from a shortage of paramedics. Liam McArthur talked about Orkney being left without an ambulance for two hours. The geography of the north-east of Scotland is such that that area, too, can be without an ambulance for two hours, because if the single ambulance in Banff, my nearest town, has gone to Aberdeen, it will be away for that length of time. The problems of island communities are ones that other communities are familiar with.

The Scottish Government has not been ignoring the issue, and I am sure that we will hear more on that from the minister. The Government has explicitly stated that it is reviewing the education of allied health professionals—a broader sweep of activity than the subject of tonight’s debate—which is an important and necessary first step.

However, 2020 has added significantly to the need for progress on the issue. I agree that there is a need for adequate consideration of what is right for paramedics and auxiliary health professionals. I very much support the debate as a useful opportunity to explore the issues, and I thank Liam McArthur once again.


08 October 2020

S5M-22985 Reducing Covid-19 Transmission

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22985, in the name of Jeane Freeman, on Covid-19.

... ... ... 

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

I want to pick up on some of the things that Christine Grahame has just been saying and what Clare Adamson said earlier. Testing has preoccupied quite a few speakers in this debate, but it has, of course, to stand a long way second to the behaviours that we adopt. If anybody doubts that prioritisation, they should just think about what we have seen happening at 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is otherwise known as the White House. The President of the United States has been tested for Covid every single day for a very long period of time, but that did not protect him from catching the disease, because the behaviours that he and many around him adopted were not safe. It is the behaviours that protect us. However, testing is important, because it is a component of understanding where the disease is going and how we can follow it as it passes from one person to another, so that further sources of infection can be cut off. It is therefore vital that we have a good testing system.

I have read that blame is being attached to software in England that was used for doing some of the statistics associated with the pandemic. Using 13-year-old Excel software was not intrinsically a problem. The software was not to blame for the difficulties that were experienced in calculating the people who tested positive; the problem was the lack of professionalism of the people who used the software. It is like blaming a four-seat car for being unable to carry two soccer teams to a match. The car was designed to carry four people, and 22 people in those soccer teams would be the normal thing. We cannot blame the car, whether it is new or 20 years old; the issue is the person who decided to use the car in the way that they did. The deficiency that has been attributed to the software is actually a deficiency in the professionalism of the people who were using it.

In a sense, that goes to the heart of who we have as our experts. With software, we need experts who understand software. I speak with a particular interest as a professional software engineer—I am not the only one in the Parliament. I have software that I wrote more than 40 years ago that is still used millions of times every week. Age can bring maturity.

On the issue of age, I heard Richard Leonard say that we should have no restrictions until they have come to the Parliament and been approved there. I say to the member that I took my first driving test in the year in which he was born and I do not want somebody to have to stop me from stepping in front of the traffic that might be coming down the road—Christine Grahame referred to that—by going to the Parliament to get permission first. Grab me and then, post hoc, homologate the decision that is made. That is the approach that we need to take with the pandemic.

I have used the word “expert”, and it is important that we have all the experts that we require to hand and the statistics that they can gather explained to us laypeople who have to make the decisions. I do not envy the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and I certainly do not envy the First Minister. I congratulate them on their fortitude in the face of the most impressive workload. I cannot believe that it is possible for them to be doing anything other than about 40 hours of work a day; it certainly looks that way. An expert is someone who brings expertise to the problems that we have to beat, and they do so without bias or taking a prior position.

We have heard quite a lot about the economy and I agree that it is vital that we protect it. That is why the money that is coming from the Scottish Government is to be welcomed. The hospitality sector has suffered in particular, and we need to be careful to support many small businesses. There are others, such as Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, who initially refused to pay his staff. He is worth about £0.5 billion and he has stopped paying his suppliers. I do not particularly want to be supporting the Tim Martins of the month; however, I want to support his employees, as that is very important.

I am delighted to see that we have a broad consensus and will support all the amendments, bar the Labour Party’s amendment. I welcome the debate.


29 September 2020

S5M-22845 The Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill - Stage 3

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is the stage 3 debate on motion S5M-22845, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, on the Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

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

Congratulations to Graham Simpson, who has made the bold and, I am sure, entirely justified claim that nothing went wrong on his watch. Of course, he was careful to draw his frame quite narrowly, so I dare say that we might have revelations at another point in his parliamentary career that draw a distinction from the claim that he has made today. However, he and the other members of the committee have done a fine job in bringing to the Parliament a proposal on whose merits there is universal consensus.

In a perfect world, everyone who requires assistance would be able to act in their own interest at all times. In the case of juveniles, of course, such actions on their part cannot be unqualified, and an adult is needed to oversee their decisions. However, the voice of juveniles must be heard in important jurisdictions that affect their futures. The children’s panel is an excellent example of where the child’s voice is often decisive in determining what should happen in particular circumstances.

The appointment of someone to look after a child’s interests with regard to social security is not to be thought about casually. It is important that, as parliamentarians and legislators, we are somewhat cynical when we look at this topic. Why cynical? Because a small number of the people who are given that responsibility will abuse that trust. We need to make sure that there are provisions to cover that circumstance and penalties for those who take away from the deserving youngsters the emoluments that are provided from the public purse. The bill takes good steps towards ensuring that we can protect the interests of our youngsters. It also makes some more general provisions in that regard.

The bill also tidies up some of the imperfections of previous legislation. It would, however, be naive of us to imagine that there is a perfect act out there that reflects the perfect parliamentary process and absolutely everything that might have been relevant to what is going on. Indeed, when the Parliament was established by the Scotland Act 1998, one of the little errors that it contained—it was not particularly important, but it was an error—was that it made no provision for what should be done about who got elected if, in calculating the last position to be elected from the list, there was a tie. As the 1998 act was first passed, everyone who was tied for last position would be elected to the Parliament. Far from having a limit of 129 members, we almost had, in a sense, no limit at all. That might be trivial, and it was very unlikely to happen, but every bit of legislation that we might get ourselves involved in will have some flaw somewhere. If we are very lucky, it never matters and it never emerges. It is, therefore, right and proper that the Government brings forward legislation that deals with some of the things that were not quite right in the first iteration of legislation.

I particularly welcome the provisions that take beyond the view of registered medical practitioners the ability to confirm whether someone is terminally ill. I spent a brief period 56 years ago as a nurse in a ward where quite a few of our patients could reasonably be so categorised, and it did not require a doctor to know that. Even as a callow 17-year-old, I could see that mortality was beckoning for some of our patients, although I would not have been sufficiently qualified to give an opinion that could be relied on. Nurses are, however, often closer to their patients than general practitioners or other practitioners in hospital. They spend more time with them, and that is a good and proper thing to say.

I will conclude my short contribution to the debate by welcoming some of the things that Rachael Hamilton said. She said that we should not be working together with the UK Government. Curiously enough, I think that we have a collaborationist Government, which is a good thing because we collaborate across the chamber, and we collaborate with the UK Government, if it is in our mutual interests to do so. If Rachael Hamilton wants to argue that we should not be doing that, I will make common cause with her—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Can I stop you there, Mr Stevenson? You might think that you have made a short contribution, but you are already a minute and a half over.

Stewart Stevenson: I am most obliged to you, Presiding Officer. As I peer at my screen, I can now see the clock. I will draw my remarks to a conclusion there by saying that I will be happy to support the bill at decision time.


23 September 2020

S5M-22646 Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22646, in the name of David Stewart, on heart valve disease awareness week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week, which takes place from 14 to 20 September 2020; notes what it sees as the need to improve early detection of heart valve disease in Scotland; acknowledges the reported increasing prevalence of severe heart valve disease in an ageing population; notes what it considers the missed opportunities to detect the disease during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions; believes that, in the medium term, this may result in a second wave of deaths from non-COVID-19-related diseases, and notes the calls for more funding to be made available for minimally invasive, proactive and curative treatments, which it considers have a huge advantage of reducing critical care occupancy by shortening the convalescence period and increasing treatment capacity.

... ... ...

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

I thank David Stewart for bringing a topic that is clearly important to the chamber.

I express sympathy for all those who live with heart valve disease. We are in exceptional times. Covid-19, which has rightly been referred to, is placing stress on the health service and on many people physically and mentally. There is a real risk for people who have serious health conditions such as heart valve disease, and I recognise the struggle that they may be experiencing. I hope that, in the near future, they will be more comforted by the way that things are going.

I am part of the ageing population; I will be 74 in a couple of weeks’ time. For me, the stethoscope test probably does not matter very much, because I have seen a general practitioner only once since I was elected to the Parliament 20 years ago, so a GP has not had the opportunity to put a stethoscope on my chest. I have my fingers crossed that nothing is going on in there that I should be worrying about. However, age is the big risk factor, so perhaps the next time the nurse inoculates me against the flu, I should ask her or him—although they are all female at my practice—to have a listen if possible. For me, there is a bit of self-interest in my interest in the issue.

Age is not the only risk factor; genetics can be a significant factor in predetermining whether people have heart problems of one sort or another. HVD risk factors include lifestyle issues, such as smoking, physical inactivity and being significantly overweight or obese. With a little professional help, we can do something about some of those things at our own hand.

Since lockdown, I have managed to walk 600-plus miles because a bit of time has been created by my not commuting for 12 hours a week between home and the Parliament. I have experienced the health benefits of doing that. Walking is, of course, a cheap, non-medical intervention. Lifestyle is important, and I hope that health professionals will aid people to understand what they can do at their own hand.

However, the stethoscope test is the main thing that we should focus on. It is disturbing to hear that so many people with heart valve disease are undiagnosed. Perhaps people do not notice the slow attrition of their health that comes from it and do not seek the assistance that they should seek as early as possible. It is widely recognised that one of the risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic is that people are a little less eager to see their GP and more likely just to lift the phone and talk to NHS 24. I certainly encourage people to go to their GP and get that stethoscope on their chest, as recommended by the British Heart Foundation. After all, HVD causes 22 per cent of premature deaths.

I agree with David Stewart and the British Heart Foundation about the importance of HVD, I congratulate David Stewart again for bringing the issue to the Parliament and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a small contribution to the debate.


S5M-22780 Prioritising Education

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22780, in the name of Jamie Greene, on prioritising education over independence. 


... ... ...


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

My personal connections with teaching are relatively substantial. My grandfather was a fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland and was a teacher; my mother was a teacher; I have nephews and nieces who are teachers in England, Scotland and Denmark; and I have great-nephews and great-nieces scattered across the globe, so I get regular reports on what goes on.

We have heard from the Tories in particular the suggestion that STEM is important and that is one thing on which I can absolutely agree with them. Jamie Greene wants us to spend more time on education and less time talking about independence, so I will use my mathematical background to look a little bit at how the Tories talk about independence. I decided to get up early this morning, at about 4.30, and do a quick analysis, using the website, of how often different parties reference independence. I had time to check only the Conservative and the SNP members. Of the top 11 members who most frequently use the word “independence”, five are Conservatives, and at the top of the table is Baroness Davidson. On average, she speaks 22.22 times per annum on independence.

With five Tories in the top 11, the Tories are 1.7 times more likely than SNP members to be in the top part of the speaking-about-independence group in Parliament. Specifically, the average number of times that a Conservative speaks about independence is 6.24 per annum while for SNP members the average is 5.4 times.

Therefore, the obsession with independence in the Parliament comes from the Conservative members. It is quite proper to ask ourselves why that should be. The answer is straightforward. It is simply a cover for their inattention to the development of policy, not just in education—vital as that undoubtedly is—but right across a wide range of the areas of responsibility that lie with this Parliament.

I see, as will others in Parliament, that the Conservative leaflets that are coming out in advance of next year’s Scottish Parliament election, and the leaflets that have come out over the past 10 years, talk about virtually nothing but independence. That happens not just in the leaflets but on the websites of Conservative MSPs.

The person who comes bottom of the frequency table for talking about independence in this place is Tom Mason. Well done, Tom—you obviously have other concerns. However, when we look at his website we see that it lists only two campaigns: one is about cashpoints—I can probably make common cause with him on that—but the other is about opposing independence. The message that comes across every time the Tories open their mouths is their opposition to independence, which is because they have so little time to think about anything else.

Jamie Greene talked about choice. We have choices about the issues that we bring to the Parliament and education is a perfectly proper choice. However, the debate was not about education. In reality, by putting independence for Scotland front and centre, the Tories showed once again that they are using their obsession with it to cover up their shortcomings elsewhere.

By the way, Jamie Greene could not even get the Government’s plan right. It is to bring a draft bill, so I am not sure why he talked about committee time and so on. Ross Greer clearly agrees with the points that I am making because he talked about Tories bringing up independence every time they speak.

I will close by going back to the fact that Baroness Davidson came top of the table.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): Mr Stevenson, can you hear me? I will stop you there and let you finish in a second. I was going to wait til the end. The leader of the Conservative group in the Parliament is called Ruth Davidson. She does not have a title. I am sure that Mr Stevenson will be respectful to all members as he always is, so he can call her either Ruth Davidson or Miss Davidson. Those are the only terms by which she will be called.

Stewart Stevenson: I apologise if I have transgressed the rules. I have obviously not been keeping up with her plans to become Baroness Davidson. I am sure that that is something that she will look forward to in the future. I apologise unreservedly to her, but she has been a wee bit shy on the whole subject.

She does have one novel achievement in this Parliament, which is not about being a baroness. She is the first leader of the Conservatives to announce that she is standing down before she assumed the office. However, she is also the cheerleader for talking about independence in Parliament.


16 September 2020

S5M-22614 Museum for Human Rights

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22614, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on a museum for human rights. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes its agreement to motion S5M-22004 (as amended) on 10 June 2020 (Official Report, c.133), which agreed that the Scottish Government would work to create a national museum to highlight Scotland’s role in the slave trade and colonialism; further notes that there are various locations across Scotland whose history in the slave trade would merit consideration for such a facility; highlights the link that Inverclyde has with the triangular trade and the sugar, tobacco and cotton industries and the financial wealth that was generated for merchants; notes that Inverclyde was reported to be the world leader in the sugar trade, which ensured that vast wealth was created both during and following the abolition of the slave trade in 1833; highlights the building of the historic sugar warehouses at the James Watt Dock in Greenock, which were opened in 1886, and notes the view that, with its existing transport and historical links, in addition to the educational and economic opportunities that could be created for future generations, Inverclyde should be the location for such a museum.

... ... ...

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

I thank Stuart McMillan for the opportunity to discuss this important subject. In passing, I will comment on the 1820 martyrs, to whom Mr McMillan referred. Our colleague Gil Paterson had a members’ business debate on that on 5 December 2001, which happened to be the third debate in which I participated after I joined the Parliament. Of course, that subject was important to me, because John Baird was my great-great-great-uncle.

However, to the matter at hand. There are many places across Scotland that we could consider for a museum, but the sugar warehouse in James Watt dock in Greenock is perhaps one of the most significant symbols of Scotland’s relationship with slavery and would, as such, be a perfect site, because it would juxtapose the brutal human costs of slavery with a symbol of Scotland’s economic wealth.

It is hard for a modern person to recognise our connection to that time. However, my grandfather was an infant when Abraham Lincoln managed to abolish slavery in the United States, so the temporal distance might be shorter than some of us care to imagine. The human psyche has a habit of distancing itself from unpleasant things—all the more so when the subject is something as violent and abhorrent as slavery. The brutal legacy of much of colonialism belongs to us as much as anything else does.

There are many places where a museum on the topic could be sited, including in the north-east, which I represent. We need only consider the Powis gates in Aberdeen, which were built by Hugh Fraser Leslie in 1834. The gates feature carvings of slaves, making direct reference to the several coffee plantations that he owned in Jamaica.

The connections do not end there. Former students of Marischal College became involved in the slave trade. There were people who inherited wealth from the trade and even some who were involved in the abduction of slaves from Africa. No matter where a person is from in this nation, they will have at least some connection to that dark part of our history.

A museum will give us the opportunity to take some responsibility, but it will be far from the only and final step in doing so. Rather, it will be a first and very useful step. It represents a new chapter in our maturation as a nation and as human beings.

We have a responsibility to uphold the human rights of all people in the present and to recognise our failings in the past. We should not pretend that the unpleasant past never happened by simply trying to erase it. There have been interesting comments made in that regard. I share the belief that we should not tear down statues, but should instead rewrite the context in which they exist, because they remind us of a dark past that we should not seek to erase.

A museum could represent a signal that we have come to recognise the iniquities of our predecessors, and to recognise that our society should reward honesty, growth and knowledge. However, the benefits of a museum will go much further than that and will force us to look at the truth of our past brutality. If we are anything as human beings, we carry compassion. I hope that, when a museum is established, we will share responsibility for our history through it, and that it inspires us to be compassionate and to be the best that we can be. I hope that such an establishment will be a light to guide us out of darkness and ignorance.

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on his championship of local interests and of the interests of his constituency. That is exactly the exemplar that all members should look to. I am happy to support his efforts.


15 September 2020

S5M-22632 World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22632, in the name of Ruth Maguire, on world suicide prevention day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that 10 September 2020 is World Suicide Prevention Day; understands that this provides the opportunity for people, across the globe, to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention; notes that, every year, it is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages and it is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds; acknowledges that prevention requires integrative strategies that encompass work at the individual, systems and community level, and notes the calls for everyone to play their part to prevent suicide.

... ... ...

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

I thank Ruth Maguire for bringing this important subject to Parliament. Some years ago, I hosted an event in the Parliament for Samaritans, which was congratulating one of its number on his very long service to the cause of suicide prevention. I very much admire the work that is done by Samaritans.

Unfortunately, that was very far from being my first contact with the issue of suicide. In preparation for the debate, I was able to identify six people with whom I had varying degrees of contact who subsequently committed suicide. One was a teenage boy with a colostomy bag. That has a major effect on someone’s psychology, and their hormone balance becomes quite different from normal. He committed suicide from the depression that flowed from that.

Another was one of my female colleagues at the Bank of Scotland, who had a long history of depressive illness. She was, in fact, in hospital when she escaped the close supervision that there was for her and was able to commit suicide. Another was a former colleague who had run a very successful part of our company. He went off to start something similar for his own account elsewhere. That business failed, and he committed suicide. Another was a friend and neighbour who just found life too much; the details are difficult to come by.

Indeed, when my father bought his medical practice in 1947, he did so because the previous general practitioner had committed suicide and the practice had become available. I did not know that for many years.

I want to speak about a close family member who committed suicide. This individual showed no signs whatsoever of mental ill health that the rest of us could detect. He expressed no suicidal thoughts in any of his comments to us, but it was clear that he was determined to take the course that he ultimately took. His practical preparations extended over a considerable period.

What was the effect on the family? For my part, I attended the mortuary to identify the deceased—not something that I wish to do again. Police interviews to confirm that the circumstances were not suspicious were a natural part of what happened and, much more to the point, the family of the individual had to be looked after in their extremity. I am delighted to say that they have all come through it successfully, but that could have gone a different way.

As somebody who worked in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 17, death was not unfamiliar to me, or being with the dying and dead. However, when it is that close and baffling—to this day I do not know why that suicide occurred—it tells you an awful lot about the variety of human thinking and human life. We all may have a little mental ill health from time to time, which may be as trivial as a mental health sniffle, or it may be a major problem that requires medical intervention. However, we will not always see that coming, as we in our family did not see it coming for the individual I have talked about.

As a number of speakers have said, one thing that we can do is to listen. Sometimes the briefest of interventions is the most appropriate. When you see somebody you have not seen for a while and you are perhaps not very close to, just say hi. Do not say more or ask how they are, but see what response you get. That is a good start and, if they hesitate, that is a warning sign to you to listen. That is the main thing that we can do—just listen. Do what they ask, if they ask, but do not try to guide people. That will often put pressure on them that is not helpful.

I thank Ruth Maguire for the opportunity to talk again about this very important subject. I hope that it makes a useful contribution to supporting people who are affected by suicide and, more importantly, to reducing the number of people who use it as the way out.


09 September 2020

S5M-22367 Dirty Camping

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22367, in the name of Murdo Fraser, on tackling dirty camping. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak to press their request-to-speak buttons now, and I call Murdo Fraser to open the debate.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands that there has been a recent increase in incidents of so-called dirty camping across Mid-Scotland and Fife and the rest of the country; notes that this sees people set up camp near lochs, beaches and forests and carry out carry out irresponsible actions such as cutting down trees, lighting fires and leaving abandoned tents, litter and waste; believes that these abhorrent practices have led to substantial expense to local authorities and landowners, who are left to clean up the mess; acknowledges that it is unrelated to traditional wild camping, which involves leaving no trace of one’s presence; notes that Perth and Kinross Council has established a multi-agency approach to tackle dirty camping, which involves Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and communities, and sees action taken where necessary and runs a communication campaign to promote good behaviour; and notes the calls for similar approaches to be adopted across Scotland and for solutions, such as local permit schemes, to be explored.

... ... ...

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

I was 22 years old when I first stayed overnight on holiday in a hotel. Up to that point, all our family holidays were under canvas. The first of them, in the early 1950s, might have been in Finlay Carson’s constituency, although it might have been in Oliver Mundell’s—I am a little uncertain. Picking up on what others have said, I have camped on the shores of Tummel, Tay, Lubnaig and Morlich, although Morlich is not in the Highlands—[Interruption.] Loch Morlich—that is correct. I have also camped on the shores at Rosemarkie, Fortrose, Achmelvich and many other places in the Highlands. Minister, I have also camped at St Cyrus, where I went with the boy scouts. Claire Baker might care to note that my first boy scout camp was inland from Anstruther. Therefore, I have spent a couple of years under canvas.

I was trained and brought up in the boy scouts by people who knew what they were doing, so I hope that, as a Stewart—one of Scotland’s great travelling families—I have sustained the traditions but behaved in a proper manner. That goes to the heart of the issue. Yes, we can do things with legislation and facilities, but we need to change what goes on inside the minds of many of these people, who have little respect for the environment or for the people who live in the environment.

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

Stewart Stevenson: Yes.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Edward Mountain.

Edward Mountain: Thank you, Presiding Officer—I am pleased that you remembered my name.

I ought to declare an interest in land. A lot of people who camp around where I live do so with huge responsibility. Sometimes, they make the mistake of leaving behind things such as the stones that they have had their fire pits in, which damage farm machinery. Some people are well intended, but could education take those well-intended people to the next step, so that we can all get on without any conflict and without damaging each other’s enjoyment of the environment?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Tread carefully, Mr Mountain.

Stewart Stevenson: Edward Mountain speaks some very good common sense. None of us is perfect in anything that we do, and we can all improve.

It was slightly surprising to hear Finlay Carson say that the Government should be telling councils what to spend money on. Fine—he might be correct.

Incidentally, the first time that I visited what is now my constituency I went to Sandend in, I think, 1963. I was camping, of course. The last time that I went camping—I had the misfortune to marry a spouse who does not like camping—I was in Wadi Rum, in Jordan, so that we could watch the sun rise over the desert, but she did not feel that she wanted to repeat the experience after that.

The bottom line is that camping is enjoyable—people enjoy the natural world—but we have to do it responsibly. I was an MSP when we passed land reform legislation, as others who are sitting here were—I see Murdo Fraser nodding sagely. That certainly created the idea in too many people’s minds that they, in quotes, “owned the country”, which, of course, is not true. We all owe a responsibility to the country, which is the important point that we want to take from the debate.

The role of country rangers has been emphasised. I have met many of them, and I know the valuable contribution that they make, in quite a mannerly way, to help people to understand their responsibilities.

At the end of the day, if people simply have no regard to others’ sense of what is right and proper and others’ peaceful enjoyment of where they stay, we have a problem that will not be solved by laws or trebling the number of rangers. We simply have to address that much earlier in people’s careers. Maybe we should subsidise the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts, because that is a good training ground; it is where I learned to cook and camp.


08 September 2020

S5M-21194 Alcohol Foetal Spectrum Disorders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The debate is on motion S5M-21194, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on recognising the impact of alcohol foetal spectrum disorders. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the prevalence and significant impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Scotland, as discussed at the meeting of the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Improving Scotland’s Health: 2021 and Beyond on 26 February 2020; notes the presentation by Dr Sarah Brown of the Foetal Alcohol Advisory and Support Team at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which highlighted that FASD results from alcohol exposure in the womb and is preventable, yet is the most common neurodevelopmental condition in Scotland; further notes data from Glasgow Royal Infirmary research, which showed that one-in-seven babies born there were at high risk of FASD, which suggests a much higher prevalence in Scotland than previously thought; understands that FASD affects neurodevelopment, attainment, physical and mental health and that, without adequate support, it reduces life expectancy to around 34 years of age; believes that 94% of people living with FASD experience mental health problems, 79% experience unemployment, and over a third struggle with addictions; acknowledges the vital work that is being carried out by FASD Hub Scotland in providing a national telephone helpline and range of support for parents/carers and those supporting families affected by FASD, as highlighted by the presentation to the group by Aliy Brown, FASD Project Lead at FASD Hub Scotland, which is run by Adoption UK Scotland; supports the “No Alcohol, No Risk” message, which makes clear that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy can be damaging to the unborn child, and acknowledges its calls for implementation of the new SIGN 156 clinical guideline for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, and welcomes the development of the National Preconception Framework as a key opportunity to reduce risks to parents and children from alcohol and other health-harming products in Cunninghame North and across Scotland.

... ... ...

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

I thank my colleague Kenneth Gibson for the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

Reading the motion, I was moved and saddened—in particular, by some of the statistics. For example, the average life expectancy of a child who is born with foetal alcohol syndrome disorders is a mere 34 years. In recent days, we have seen an outpouring of grief for a young actor who died at the age of 43, which is nearly 10 years older than the average life expectancy of a youngster who is affected by FASD.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders lead to quite variable outcomes, with some sufferers being affected more significantly than others. The presenting symptoms are not necessarily consistent among the cohort of people who are subject to the disorder—hence the difficulties that there often are in diagnosing the condition and in getting appropriate support in place.

What is shared, however, is that the syndrome is preventable. No parent—or very few parents—deliberately set out to harm their children. The syndrome is a side effect of an addiction to, or abuse of, one of our most widely available drugs of choice: alcohol. The danger with alcohol is that although it is an addictive drug it is not addictive for everybody, so people think that it is safe. For children in the womb, it is not safe. There is enough knowledge out there; people should know that they should not drink when they are pregnant.

However, not everyone is able to respond to the rational case for their stopping drinking. That is especially the case for an addict. It is our responsibility to support mothers during pregnancy and to support the children who suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The championing of campaigns such as #NoAlcoholNoRisk is welcome.

I encountered issues to do with alcohol addiction when I was a nurse, 56 years ago, and one of our patients was an alcoholic who suffered extremely as a result of his addiction. My father was a general practitioner, and I used to provide some social support to addicts who were on his list. The issue is not far from a great many of us.

Children cannot look after themselves; they do not have the knowledge or the power to do anything about their situation. It is important that we identify the help that is required, and that people who suffer from FASD get everything that they require to lead as normal a life as possible.

I listened to Mr Whittle. I think that members can see the range of options that are available to support people, and to ensure that intervention comes early enough in a child’s life to ensure that they can get the maximum out of however long they have in this world. Early diagnosis, a loving and stable home and the absence of violence are rights that we all want for children in our society, and which we all have a duty to uphold. It is necessary to create a world in which people are supported. We will do all that we can to support future generations.

I very much welcome tonight’s debate. I hope that it brings the condition to the attention of a wider audience, and I hope that mothers and potential mothers are aware of the damage that alcohol can do to the precious child in the womb.


12 August 2020

S5M-22396 Economic Recovery Implementation Plan

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22396, in the name of Fiona Hyslop, on an implementation plan for economic recovery.

... ... ...

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

I will address a couple of points made by Tory members before I come to the meat of what I want to say. Scotland is the part of the UK that has seen by far the biggest uplift in delivery of superfast broadband. The UK Government’s universal service obligation provides a third of the speed that the Scottish Government is working towards.

If I may say so, Dean Lockhart showed exceptional bravery in his contribution to the debate. He suggested that we had lost £500 million. We will have that debate another time. However, I have just checked and, so far, the high speed 2 project, which is controlled by the UK Government, is £30 billion over budget. Per capita, that would be £2.5 billion from Scotland, which is five times more than £500 million.

I turn to the substance of the issue that is before us today. I think that we can all agree that the pandemic has brought to many members of our population very real fear about the situation in which they find themselves, through no fault of their own and through no fault of any Government. It is important that we give them hope for the future, and the work that the Scottish Government has been doing is precisely what we can look to for that hope. The big projects of the past 50 or 60 years have been based on hope and set out by the ambition of leaders. That is what we see before us today. John F Kennedy taking his nation to the moon is an example.

However, many of the things that we can use today are not particularly new. I started using teleconferencing during a joint project with Australia nearly 30 years ago. Willie Coffey talked about the importance of software. Software is vital, but it is not as transient as we often think it is. I know for a fact that a piece of software that I used 45 years ago is in use today and is maintained by my successors.

I very much welcome the fact that in her opening remarks, the cabinet secretary referred to hydrogen. In the north-east of Scotland in particular, with the hydrogen buses in Aberdeen, we have already taken some early steps to show the viability of hydrogen as a fuel for heavy transport of one sort or another—heavy goods vehicles, buses and so on. The bus service operators grant does not focus specifically on supporting the use of hydrogen to power buses, and I think that we might care to revisit that.

In the north-east, we have huge amounts of renewable energy. A lot of it comes from onshore wind turbines, and there is space for some more. There are offshore wind turbines; the Hywind project is one example. Of course, there is also the Moray East project. The cables for that project run across my constituency and into my colleague Gillian Martin’s constituency, and they carry the raw material for producing the hydrogen that we can use.

I make a wee comment about the renewable transport fuel obligation. Hydrogen vehicles cannot access that subsidy, so we might also want to look at that.

Is there an economic opportunity that comes from hydrogen? Yes, there is, because it is in an early stage of development. We have the opportunity and the engineering skills in the north-east from working offshore and producing fuel from the North Sea—initially, it was through oil and gas, and now it is through wind turbines. That is part of what is needed. In my constituency, we have the Acorn project at St Fergus, which takes gas from the North Sea and uses the energy in a zero carbon footprint way to produce hydrogen, which can then be fed into the gas grid. Twenty per cent of what we put in the gas grid can be hydrogen, with the existing equipment that is using that hydrogen at the other end.

There is more that we can do, and I hope that we do it. I hope that we take the opportunity to use some of the significant amount of money that is being spent on retraining people to train more people in the skills that we need in exploiting hydrogen. Just as we have had success in the past from oil and gas, we can build our future on hydrogen. It presents a huge opportunity for Scotland and, in particular, for the area that I represent.


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