19 February 2020

S5M-20055 Prehistoric Rock Art

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20055, in the name of Gil Paterson, on the Cochno stone and the social value of Scotland’s prehistoric rock art. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Dr Kenny Brophy of the University of Glasgow Archaeology Department on the extensive work on prehistoric rock art throughout a wide expanse of West Dunbartonshire; notes that this includes numerous excavations in the Faifley area of Clydebank, including, in particular, the Cochno Stone; understands that this is one of Europe’s most important examples of rock carvings, and that this was entirely uncovered and intricately documented, including a full digital scan and recording; notes that this important work by Dr Brophy and his university team was assisted over many months by volunteers from far and wide, including local people and school pupils, and considers that this project is a model for collaboration between experts, well-practised helpers and a very supportive, well-informed community that wants to bring to the wider world the iconic art that is there to be exposed, enjoyed and celebrated by all.

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

I, too, thank Gil Paterson for giving us the opportunity to debate this interesting subject. We are talking about something that is very old, so it is entirely appropriate that the four oldest members of this Parliament are all present. I note that I am the fourth oldest of those four, but we are all of an age at which antiquity is of particular interest to us. [Laughter.]

The Cochno stone is of uncertain age. Some of my research says that it is 5,000 years since it was produced and other research says that it dates from the third millennium BC and, thus, is perhaps not quite as old.

Gil Paterson is ahead of me, as he has converted to the metric system. He said that the stone is 100m2, while my notes say that it is 42 feet by 26 feet. I am a mathematician so I had to do the arithmetic, and he is absolutely spot on: 42 feet by 26 feet is 100m2. I am glad that Gil got that right.

Something as old as the Cochno stone is always fascinating. People of all ages can realistically engage with anything that throws us back to a previous age and which has mystery around it. One of the first things that I wondered was where this name came from. It appears that it is from cauchanach, which is the Gaelic for “place of little cups”. When we look at what is on the stone, that is a credible explanation, although it is not a certain one; we will probably never have that. We know that the stone is named after a Cochnol house that was on the site before we found the stone, but that is not to say that the house was there before the stone. The stone was almost certainly there before the house was built by the Hamiltons, some 100 years ago.

Although the stone was buried, the locals continued to remember it over a long period of time and it was a source of stories and inspiration for stories, like many such ancient artefacts. The fact that it has been dug up, reburied and dug up again provides an interesting comparison with China, on which Gil Paterson, with his passion for all things from the east, threw light when he talked about it.

To come up to date, the University of Glasgow, Factum Arte and the local community are now involved in engaging with and protecting the stone, and in cleaning the area in which it stood and removing the ground around it so that we can actually see it. The fact that Gil Paterson could not find the stone, because of overgrowth on the site, tells us everything that we need to know about the previous neglect of the stone.

It is great that the modern technology in a 50 megapixel camera has been used to create 3D images, but in our modern arrogance, we must remember that the electronic world is quite an ephemeral one; the electronic images might vanish quickly and become inaccessible to us. However, the stone will probably outlive any of the technology that is being used—excellent as it is as a way of reaching out across the world to tell the story of this archaeological endeavour and creating a database that allows people across the world to study the carvings from the Cochno stone and see echoes of them in other areas.

It is interesting. I thought that the word “Cochno” came from cochlea, the Greek word for snail, because I had not properly looked at the stone. I then realised that the carvings were not snails and were much more like cups.

We have had an interesting short debate and it is tremendous to see so many of those who have been involved in the project in the public gallery. Just as I, in primary school, was given a little ammonite—a fossil that was billions of years old—that inspired me, I hope that this project will inspire many in the area where the stone is located. For Dr Kenny Brophy and his team, the schoolchildren who have been involved and the community, this is an important part of their history but it will also be part of their future.


06 February 2020

S5M-20184 World Cancer Day 2020

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20184, in the name of Monica Lennon, on world cancer day 2020. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that 4 February 2020 is World Cancer Day, a global initiative that encourages everyone to put cancer on the global agenda; understands that one in two people will get cancer in their lifetime and that over the last 40 years survival rates have doubled, with half of people in Scotland now surviving cancer thanks to the great progress that research has made, and that Cancer Research UK’s vision is to see three-quarters of people with cancer surviving the disease by 2034; believes that it is crucial to address variations in outcomes between cancer types and patient groups where they exist in Scotland; welcomes world-leading research funded by Cancer Research UK and others into those cancers with the lowest survival rates, including lung, pancreatic and brain cancers; notes what it sees as the persistent gaps in outcomes, especially for those in Scotland’s most deprived communities and recognises calls for urgent action to address cancer health inequalities in any form; understands the need to ensure that cancer services in the Central Scotland region and across the country are planned to ensure the best outcome for every patient wherever they live, while allowing patients to decide what matters most to them on their cancer journey, and notes that Members can show their support for World Cancer Day through the wearing of the Unity Band.

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

I endorse Lewis Macdonald’s remarks about the excellent work that is done by Friends of ANCHOR, CLAN and other charities in the north-east of Scotland. Of course, I thank Monica Lennon for the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

I had a look at my previous speeches on the subject, and I found four: one on breast cancer, one on lung cancer, one on skin cancer and, most recently, one on young people’s cancers. We are all aware that there is a wide variety of cancers.

I turn to the number of cancers that we are diagnosing. By 2027, we will be looking, perhaps, at as many as 40,000 per year, and 110 people will be diagnosed with cancer every day.

Both my parents died of cancer, some considerable time ago: one of breast cancer and one of prostate cancer.

Mortality rates have decreased by 12 per cent in males and 7 per cent in females over the past 10 years, so we are making progress. As we increase our diagnostic capability, we are improving our treatment capability and outcomes.

The lowest survival rates are those for lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, smoking being the cause in many cases. Of course, people being overweight is also a significant cause of cancer. I sit on the very edge of the normal range of body mass index, occasionally dodging out of it and then struggling to come back in. However, too many people in our communities—for all sorts of reasons, and particularly in areas of social and economic disadvantage—are suffering from problems due to being overweight or greater consumption of tobacco. There are a wide range of risk factors that we have to address, as other speakers in the debate have mentioned. Deprived communities are part of the inequalities that we have to tackle.

Cancer Research UK tells us—it is an exact figure—that 41.5 per cent of cancers are potentially preventable. Beyond the prevention work that we have to undertake to get smoking, obesity and our consumption of alcohol under control, one thing that is helpful is early detection. I am in the age group of people who get an annual postal thing that allows them to test for blood in their stool, which is a primary indication of potential bowel cancer. I welcome the fact that the number of samples that one has to take went down from five, as it was when I entered the system, to three, and that it is now just one. The process is not highly engaging or exciting, and the more that we can deconstruct barriers to people doing the test, the better.

That is particularly important for me because I have another condition that tends to give false positives. NHS Grampian has been extremely good in showing in the follow-up that there was a false positive. I have far too intimate knowledge of one of its cameras, which has looked at my innards. I hope that NHS Grampian will continue to give me support as and when it may be necessary. Most recently, it offered me an appointment on a Sunday, which I thought was superb because it did not interfere with other things. That is an example of the innovative approaches that are being taken.

The Scottish Government’s detect cancer early programme, which has been running for a number of years, is a major contributor to detecting early signs of cancer, and I hope that it continues to do so. I hope that we all manage to avoid cancer or, if we get it, that we get the treatment that we need. I am sure that we shall.


05 February 2020

S5M-19941 Cheyne Gang Singing Group

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-19941, in the name of Gordon MacDonald, on the Cheyne Gang singing group.

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

I, too, thank Gordon MacDonald for providing us with the opportunity to recognise the Cheyne Gang singing group.

Let me say that, as other members have said of themselves, I am usually paid to remain silent when singing is taking place. However, I suggest that I could do a bit of whistling and humming as background to the singing, because that is equally good for the lungs. Perhaps a puirt à beul session, with me humming in the background, might be the answer.

As Elaine Smith mentioned, singing is a very inexpensive way of helping people with pulmonary rehabilitation, so I expect the national health service to sign up for it with great enthusiasm. However, there are practical issues around its use. In the 1940s I was diagnosed as suffering from what was then described as “broncho spasm”. I was treated with a horrible little M & B tablet, which was delivered to me, wrapped in tomato jam, on a spoon. To this day, I am a little averse to having tomato jam. It was not clear whether the condition that I was suffering from was bronchitis, asthma or something else. It continued into my adult life, but I no longer suffer from it. My father, who was a GP, taught me a form of hypnotism, which we might now call mindfulness, so that I am able to use my psychological skills to prevent an attack from happening. The doctors at my medical practice think that I should have an inhaler with me at all times. I have not had one for 30 years, so that is too bad.

The bottom line is that singing helps us to avoid the rapid breath-stacking pattern of breathing—a dynamic hyperventilation of the lungs that reduces inspiration of air. When sufferers have an attack they think that they cannot breathe in, whereas the reality is that they cannot breathe out properly. Our lungs can hold 3 litres of air, but our breathing uses about 500 millilitres each time. Because of my lifetime condition I am usually down at the 380ml mark. However, I know that since I have stopped using the lifts to reach the fifth floor of the Parliament my lung capacity has gone up by 15 per cent—I have a device for measuring it.

There are many ways of doing things cheaply, but the bottom line is that asthma, and lung conditions in general, prevent people from being active and cut them off from social occasions. They also have psychological negatives such as anxiety, depression and hospitalisation. Therefore, communities such as the Cheyne Gang have wider effects that are beyond the purely medical: they also have social benefits, which we should encourage.

In the UK, 8 million people have been diagnosed with asthma, which I find slightly puzzling. I went to what was probably the biggest secondary school in Scotland. In my year, which consisted of more than 400 pupils, only three of us—Roger, Teddy and me—had asthma, whereas now the statistic is one person in 17. Therefore, something about the modern world means that asthma is a more pressing concern than it formerly was.

Elaine Smith: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson
: If the Presiding Officer will allow it.

Elaine Smith: On that issue, last week it was discovered that although more boys might have asthma, more women than men die of asthma; that point needs to be looked at, and I have lodged some questions on it.

Stewart Stevenson
: That is a very interesting point, which I was not aware of. I thank Elaine Smith for raising it.

In the previous session of Parliament, one of our colleagues suffered from COPD. I will not name him, because it was not generally known, but the suffering that he experienced was apparent from time to time. Fortunately, he continues to experience good health in life after Parliament.

The reduction in tobacco use has improved things. It has always been a trigger for lung conditions, although one of the ironies of tobacco is that it freezes the cilia in the bronchial tubes, which initially makes one feel better, not worse—a very curious and unhelpful thing.

Pulmonary rehabilitation as an education programme and a part of physical exercise is a good way to go about things. We have moved on terrifically. In the 1940s, when I was first diagnosed with asthma, the treatment was an M & B tablet and going out in the street when there was a tar wagon around, because it was thought that the tar fumes were helpful. It is rather doubtful whether that was actually the case. There were many myths, some of which endure to the present day. The Scottish Government’s plan to improve pulmonary rehabilitation through its respiratory care plan is to be welcomed.

The Cheyne Gang and community groups across Scotland are on the front line and I recognise their value to their communities in leading the way. They are to be utterly commended and, as somebody who I should now describe as a former asthmatic, I am astonished and delighted to hear about their work.


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