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.


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