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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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