Reflections on the Proposed Third Runway at Heathrow

The recent announcement of Scottish Government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow drew warm support from Scotland’s other political parties, but not the Scottish Greens.

The Scottish Government appeared to be seduced by promises of an astonishing “16,000 new jobs,” forgetting to say that estimate was by 2050; one hundred jobs for Prestwick and, casting aside any suggestion of an open, transparent and fair procurement policy, an assurance of Scotland winning £200m construction-related spend during planning and construction of the third runway.

Cabinet Secretary, for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP was enthused about the ‘£10 off’ deal for passengers landing at Heathrow from Scotland giving confusing and conflicting messages about the number of ‘short haul’ flights and their implications.

There was little public talk of the “£10million route development fund to help support new (my emphasis) domestic routes.” So more flights, possibly from more destinations in Scotland.

Mr Brown volunteered that increasing the number of long-haul flights to Scotland could reduce the number of “damaging” short-haul connections to Heathrow. However, Mr Brown blew that line by adding that many people flying directly to Scotland would want onward journeys to Heathrow.

Friends of the Earth say a third runway at Heathrow would increase passenger traffic by 70% by 2030; adding that if the UK and Scottish governments are genuinely committed to achieving internationally agreed climate change targets then aviation cannot be allowed to grow much more.

Here’s what we know:

  • Aviation is the fastest source of greenhouse gases with airlines gross polluters
  • Expanding aviation is a disaster for the climate and communities
  • Whilst air links from Inverness to London make sense those from central Scotland don’t
  • Improved rail services, in public ownership, would provide wider benefit

Of course with the building of the third runway at Heathrow is estimated at billions of pounds, the Scottish Government is thinking of the lucrative Barnett consequentials – assuming they exist when construction takes place – rather than its hitherto proclaimed priority of addressing climate change.

This whole episode is a last century idea indicative of an unhelpful cosiness between the Scottish Government and big business.

John Speech on Island Health Boards

On Thursday (6th October) John spoke in a member’s debate, held by Liam McArthur MSP, on the importance of Island Health Boards

“I, too, thank Liam McArthur for bringing this very important debate to the chamber. The motion talks about distinct communities, and my colleague Rhoda Grant talked about changing the mindset. If members were to read the “Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification”—if they had nothing better to do—they would see that there are various classifications, all of which are fixated on centres of population. The classification of “remote rural” is somewhere

“with a drive time of over 30 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more”.

That is challenging, because we are talking about communities that might be classed as being beyond “very remote rural” because they are significantly impeded by geography.

The motion also talks about a one-size-fits-all approach not working, and I agree with that, although there are some exceptions that members have previously alluded to—for example, standards of care and terms and conditions for staff, which should be protected however the administrative arrangements are configured. Nevertheless, there are challenges associated with that, too. In the previous session, I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport about the challenges that are faced in delivery of training to people in social care on Orkney’s small islands. Of course, there is an assessment of needs, but there must be a practical approach to how that is delivered that bears in mind—quite literally—time and tide. I have no doubt that such approaches are best determined locally.

Island communities require different solutions and although impact assessments inform a lot of our decision making in this building, it is hard to change mindsets—it is a two-way thing: urban-rural, rural-urban—and I do not think that there is a clear understanding of some of the practical implications. The solutions come from communities. For example, I commend the new and innovative model of care on the small islands in the NHS Highland area. Called the nuka model of health and care services, it was created and is managed and owned by Alaskan native people, and it has enabled the islands of Eigg and Muck to come up with their own solutions to problems as well as delivering jobs there.

Another phrase in the motion—“inevitably requires additional resources”—is important because, as has been said, there are additional travel costs and other costs associated with travel. When Highlands and Islands Enterprise had the budget for training, it took cognisance of the actual costs. However, when Skills Development Scotland took over that budget, it moved to one-size-fits-all delivery of training per capita, which has impacted desperately on some of the small providers; indeed, Argyll Training went out of business just last Friday. All decisions are best made locally and on an informed basis.

A colleague mentioned NHS Highland. I can stand at the north end of that board’s catchment area and look over to Liam McArthur’s constituency in Orkney and I can stand at the southern end and look over to Glasgow. It is a ridiculous size—it covers an area the size of Belgium and Wales, with Argyll and Bute added on. It is not the model that we should be looking at, and it is certainly not the one that I am promoting.

Integration of health and social care is a factor, too, but I do not know whether that factor has prompted some of the Scottish Government’s proposals. My party and I suggest that there should be more rather than fewer local management decisions. There is no doubt that collaboration will continue, but not every health board could or should have every specialism.

As we have heard from Mr McArthur, the scanner in Orkney has made a difference. Telehealth and the information technology infrastructure that underpins it are important.

The NHS is a shared resource and a valued public service and it should be managed locally. For the good folk of Orkney, that should be from within the islands by NHS Orkney.”


You can watch John’s speech here:

John’s speech on hate crimes against Polish migrants

2015-10-04-jf-speaking-hate-crimes-against-polish-migrantsJohn Finnie spoke in the Scottish Parliament debate on hate crimes against Polish immigrants on Tuesday 5 October, challenging the rising tide of xenophobic rhetoric and making it clear that Poles – and immigrants from all over the world – are welcome in Scotland.

To watch John’s speech on the Scottish Parliament website, click here.

I congratulate Kenny Gibson on bringing this highly pertinent debate to the Parliament.

“Hate crime” is an ugly term, but it graphically describes what I think that Kenny Gibson called acting out “dangerous and prejudicial views”. There must be—and I am delighted that there is—unanimity in the Parliament about how we address it.

I will not rehearse all the historical references, which are well established and have been mentioned by other members. The references to the second world war resonated with me, because of the affection that my father and his brothers had for the Polish people who joined in the fight against fascism. We know that 16,000 families settled in the UK at the end of the war, who contributed greatly to our country. Who were those people? They were the parents of classmates, and they were joined—certainly where I am from, in Lochaber—by many people from the Baltic states.

There has been recent migration to Scotland and the UK, and some 7 per cent of Scotland’s population was born outwith the UK. It is pertinent that Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004 and it is estimated that 44,000 Polish people migrated to the UK each year between 2004 and 2012. As members said, Polish people constitute the largest group of residents of Scotland who were born outwith the UK.

Anne White, professor of Polish studies at University College London, has written about the pattern of Polish migration to the UK. It is interesting that it tends to be young families who migrate, rather than young single migrants, who return to Poland after several years. Many parents move to the UK for a year or two before they bring their children over, and many Polish migrants start their own businesses after a few years. Anne White has written:

“this is a generation of Poles at home in the UK.”

There are certainly a great number who are at home in the Highlands and Islands, and long may that be the case.

Members talked about EU migrants’ contribution to the UK economy. Figures that I have for 2000 to 2011 suggest that the contribution was £20 billion. EU migrants are 43 per cent less likely to be in receipt of benefits and 7 per cent less likely to live in social housing than UK-born people. As members said, they are also likely to be more highly educated.

There are some disturbing figures. In a poll in 2015, in advance of the referendum, 23 per cent of Polish respondents said that they had experienced discrimination, and 23 per cent of those people felt that that had happened on more than one occasion—of course, discrimination will be underreported, given people’s fear of retaliation and victimisation in the workplace. There is also the fees issue, which prevents people from taking up employment cases.

Kenny Gibson talked about poisonous reporting, and the motion refers to “irresponsible and shameful reporting”. I take issue with my Conservative colleague in that regard: I do not think that such reporting was just on the fringes, and I would ask to what end it was being used. We have all seen collages made up of lurid headlines from the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. I do not doubt for a second that those headlines passed some legal test, but they did not pass the moral test and they certainly caused me great offence. The EU certainly does not offend Mr Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail sufficiently to stop him claiming a quarter of a million pounds in EU funds for his sporting estates here.

The EU referendum was characterised by lies, distortions and threats. Racism needs to be challenged at all times, including—as we have heard about—the graffiti and the stickers that have gone up. We need to be cautious not to be complacent in Scotland—the far right is on the rise across Europe and Scotland is no different. As many previous speakers have said, I stand in solidarity with Polish people. In fact, I stand in solidarity with all people and I say to them, “Fàilte a h-uile duine”. You are all very welcome.

On one partisan point, the Green Party European campaign had the tag line of a just and welcoming Scotland, which I am sure that everyone would subscribe to. I add to that tag line: a safe and secure Scotland for our Polish residents.

John secures First Minister’s assurance on the future of HIE

john-finnie-scottish-parliament-stairsJohn has welcomed an assurance from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and called for the creation of a new agency to replicate HIE’s success in the South of Scotland.

HIE, which replaced the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1991, differs from Scottish Enterprise in that it is charged with supporting community development, not just the commercial economy.

Fears for the future of HIE were raised this week by Highland economist Tony Mackay. After meeting with Scottish Government ministers, he wrote: “One of the ministers told me that the Government is considering merging Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.”

Questioning Ms Sturgeon, John said:

“First Minister, you’ll be aware that Highlands and Islands Enterprise, like the Highlands and Islands Development Board before it, provides a valuable role in the Highlands and Islands. That’s because of its dual remit of not only economic but also community benefit.

“You’ll be aware of press speculation regarding its future. Can you give an assurance that these two important functions will continue to be discharged by HIE in the Highlands and Islands?”

The First Minister replied:

“Yes. HIE has done a fantastic job over the last fifty years. I can give the assurance to the Member that we will make sure it is in a position to continue to carry out those functions and provide the excellent services it does to the Highlands of Scotland.”

Speaking afterwards, John said:

“I am pleased that the First Minister has quashed talk of merging HIE with Scottish Enterprise. The Highlands and Islands faces unique challenges and opportunities, and needs its own development agency. More than that, it needs one with the big-picture outlook that is built in to HIE: supporting development of and for the whole community, not commerce alone.

“The First Minister recognises the hugely valuable role that HIE has played in the north of Scotland over the past 50 years, so I hope she will see the strong case for bringing that success to the south of Scotland too.

“The south of Scotland is, like the Highlands and Islands, a large, predominantly rural region – but it is also very different and faces very different issues. A new, dedicated agency for the region on the HIE model would enable local responses to the south’s own challenges while putting its communities at the heart of its economic development.”

As well as representing the Highlands and Islands region, John is the Scottish Greens’ national spokesperson on Rural and Island Communities.

John asks Comhairle to protect Isles’ few remaining trees

Tree at Loch Druidibeg, South Uist, by Molly Duker. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Tree at Loch Druidibeg, South Uist, by Molly Duker. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
John Finnie has written to the Chief Executive of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, asking the council to use its powers to defend the Western Isles’ trees.

The islands’ natural condition is to be covered by forest, but deforestation by humans has led to the present environment, described by Scottish Natural Heritage as “generally treeless”.

Mr Finnie has asked the council to grant Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) to the Western Isles’ remaining trees, to defend the those that still exist and provide a stable base for expanding woodland on the islands.

John said:

“Woodland is good for people, for wild plant and animal species, and for the rural economy. The Western Isles are one of the most deforested parts of Scotland, so it makes sense to use already existing powers to defend the remaining trees.

“Native woodland in the Western Isles is even more seriously threatened. The 2004 Native Woodlands Habitat Action Plan estimated that there was just 200 hectares of semi-natural woodland left on the islands, and set a target of ensuring no net loss in area or reduction in quality of these ecologically and historically precious areas.

“The rules for TPOs specify that the Order must protect either ‘amenity’ or trees of ‘cultural or historical significance’. Any further loss of trees on the islands would clearly be a blow to local people’s wellbeing – or ‘amenity’ – and there can be no doubt that our remaining native woodland is of both cultural and historical significance.”

John’s letter to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Chief Executive, Malcolm Burr, reads:

Dear Malcolm,

Thank you for your email of 24 August regarding Tree Preservation Orders (TPO).

I disagree that it is self-evident that a TPO protecting all of the Western Isles’ non-commercial trees would fail the tests set by statute.

From having been a substantially wooded archipelago when they were settled by humans after the last ice age, the Western Isles have become, in the words of Scottish Natural Heritage “generally treeless”.

Given the known positive social impact of trees, I would argue that the Isles’ treelessness is of sufficient concern that protecting what few trees remain is very much “expedient in the interest of amenity”.

The situation of native woodlands in particular is even more grave. In 2004, the Native Woodlands Habitat Action Plan estimated the area of semi-natural woodland in the Western Isles at just 200ha, and set a target of “ensur[ing] no net loss in area or reduction in quality of native woodlands. In this context, the remaining native woodland would seem to be of “cultural or historical significance”, and warrant protection via TPOs.

I am certain that the Planning Service is reactive and does take into account the amenity and historic value of trees when considering planning applications, but removal of trees in and of itself does not require planning permission. Without TPOs, the Council has no locus to intervene.

Given the precarious situation of woodland in the Western Isles, and the great importance of woodland to environmental and public health, I would be grateful if you would reconsider my proposal to make a Tree Preservation Order, or a number of contiguous Tree Preservation Orders, to defend the Western Isles’ non-commercial trees.

Kind regards

John Finnie MSP

“Absurd” plan to merge every Moray school

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsJohn Finnie has urged Moray Council bosses to abandon their plan to merge all of Moray’s primary and secondary schools into a single 12,000-pupil mega-campus.

John said:

“Moray Council need to stop wasting time with this obviously absurd plan and get back to finding a realistic solution that keeps schools at the heart of communities across Moray.

“The megaschool would have more pupils than there are undergraduates at the University of Aberdeen. On school days, it would be a town the same size as Forres. Children as young as four would have a commute of up to an hour each way.

“Not only would this be unworkable, it would tear schools and school children out of their communities. We need more community connection with our schools, not less.”

Securing Scotland’s Rural Economy Following The European Union Referendum

Yesterday, 27th September 2016, John spoke in the Scottish Government’s debate, ‘Securing the interests of Scotland’s rural economy following the European Union referendum’. The motion debated was

Motion S5M-01669: Fergus Ewing, Inverness and Nairn, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 26/09/2016
Securing the Interests of Scotland’s Rural Economy Following the EU Referendum
That the Parliament agrees that the best way to protect rural interests is by protecting Scotland’s place in Europe, maintaining membership of the single market, and access to the free movement of labour; welcomes that the Scottish Ministers will pass on in full the EU funding guaranteed by the UK Government so far; notes that membership of the EU delivers significant economic and social benefits to Scotland’s rural economy, worth billions between 2014 and 2020; resolves to do all it can to secure the jobs, incomes, businesses, investment and development dependent on these benefits, and, therefore, calls on the UK Government to guarantee all EU funding due to Scotland and to ensure that Scotland has a role in decision-making, as well as full involvement in all UK negotiations, including those on fisheries management.

You can read John’s speech below:


“The Scottish Green Party will support the Scottish Government’s motion at decision time. I never thought that I would commence a speech by agreeing with David Mundell, but the cabinet secretary quoted David Mundell saying that

“the risks … are … too great”,

and Mr Crawford outlined what Mr Mundell said about the severity of the implications. Those implications are not simply economic; social benefits will also be affected. My Highlands and Islands colleague Rhoda Grant talked about the infrastructure benefits that have come to the Highlands as a result of membership of the EU, which are apparent to everyone.

The big question is what our countryside should look like. The Scottish Green Party’s view is that our rural and coastal communities should be vibrant places where lots of small communities own, respect and benefit from natural resources. There should be adequate housing, local schooling and access to a range of public services. For that reason, we will support the Labour amendment, which reminds us of the importance of broadband.

On our rural economy, 98 per cent of Scotland’s landmass is rural, and 18 per cent of its population, 16 per cent of its employment, 30 per cent of its enterprises and 40 per cent of its small and medium-sized enterprises are rural. Rural communities are vibrant but fragile places. Their hallmarks are multiple job holding; underemployment; seasonal employment, which is often linked to housing availability; and sectors that depend on migrant labour, as more than one member has outlined. Therefore, we cannot deal with the uncertainty that Brexit has visited on us.

The motion mentions

“membership of the single market”.

It is about not access but membership. That is important.

The motion also mentions freedom of movement. The Scottish Green Party certainly takes the view that the Prime Minister should spell out her intention to safeguard the free movement of people, however likely that is, and she should allow for a separate membership deal for Scotland if that is necessary. That would better reflect how we voted.

The economic benefit to the UK of EU migrants is well documented. I will give a figure from research from 2014. During the period from 2001 to 2011, the economic benefit from them was £22 billion. More recently, an HM Revenue and Customs report said that EU migrants made a positive contribution to the UK public finances in 2013-14 of more than £2.5 billion, which is a significant figure. That positive contribution is keenly felt in rural areas, with their agriculture, hospitality businesses and social care services, which are important for a growing and ageing population.

There is an opportunity to review our policies regardless of what happens with the EU. We clearly want to stay in it, but people have acknowledged that it is not without its flaws. I will give another example. The virulently anti-EU newspaper owner Mr Paul Dacre, who is a resident of the Highlands and Islands, landed more than £250,000 in EU subsidies for his sporting estate in Wester Ross and another €13,000 in direct farm payments.

The previous Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment opposed payments to sporting estates. I understand that he made representations to the EU but that the proposals were said to be too loosely defined. I hope that the Scottish Government continues to hold that position and that it will pursue the matter.

I am grateful to the various organisations that have provided briefings. The Scottish Wildlife Trust talks about four significant issues that will need to be addressed to achieve the best possible outcome for Scotland’s natural environment. It talks about the future of environmental legislation. We know that the EU has been responsible for a considerable volume of quality legislation that has made the world a better place. It talks about funding to support sustainable land management, which is an important issue. Obviously, I welcome the land fund. It also talks about how Scotland achieves healthy seas. That is about sustainable fisheries management and local fisheries management. It is about acknowledging that fish do not recognise international boundaries and that international co-operation will be required. The trust’s final point is about ensuring that Scotland remains a centre of excellence for science and knowledge exchange.

There has been cross-party consensus—it is perhaps rare—on post-study work visas, which the situation will have an impact on. It is unfortunate for Scotland that the UK Government did not pick up on that.

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of our rural communities, and natural capital is a key priority of its economic strategy. The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity talked about the potential loss of 40 million trees, which arises with a well-known dip coming in our timber production.

The Greens see a different emphasis. We like smaller units of agriculture rather than the large agricultural businesses. Only £350 million supports the agri-environment schemes. That is paid through the SRDP in pillar 2 payments.

It is not just us who think that there are flaws; the recent Audit Scotland report on the current CAP programme confirms that view. That is understandable, given the failures of the current scheme. Obvious benefits are associated with the direct payments to support food production, but Scots throw away 600,000 tonnes of food and drink every year, which costs £1 billion. Agriculture and related land use contribute to 20 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. In the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee meeting last week, we heard that steps are being taken on that. Intensive farming makes a significant contribution to pollution.

We draw a contrast with the relatively small amount of money that is spent under agri-environment schemes through pillar 2, which incentivises land managers to deliver public benefits by improving, promoting and providing public access, creating new habitats, removing non-native species, expanding native species, planting native woodland, supporting conservation grazing and restoring peatlands.

One of the briefings that I read was from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which said that

“establishing new frameworks for all of the areas currently covered by EU legislation”

was “a major task” and questioned the resilience of Government staff to do that. We very much rely on the staff in the various Government directorates and, if we leave the EU, that will be a huge challenge.

It is vital for the Scottish Government to be fully involved in negotiations. Unless other parties wish to say otherwise, I understand that the Scottish Government is charged with representing and protecting Scotland’s interests in the negotiations. The Scottish Green Party certainly wishes to see that continue and appreciates the Government’s efforts thus far.

It is clear that the impacts of Brexit are far reaching and that there will be challenges for Scotland’s natural capital. It is vital that we have vibrant and viable coastal and rural communities. It is important that we determine how best taxpayers’ money is spent to maximise the benefits and achieve sustainable land management. We want that to take place within the EU; we want that within the single market. We want freedom of movement, which is a red-line issue for us. If we fail to get that, we will chart our own destiny.”

You can watch John’s speech here: