Finnie Raises Concerns Over SPA Performance

John Finnie MSP, Scottish Greens Justice Spokesperson, this afternoon (22/06/2017) raised further concerns around the performance of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) at the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing.

The Sub-Committee took evidence from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) on their review of the SPA.

Mr Finnie raised concern around the SPA’s lack of collaboration with police staff associations and trade unions.

Further concerns around the board’s support for the current chair, despite the clear lack of confidence expressed by two parliamentary committees, were also highlighted by Finnie.

Mr Finnie also questioned Derek Penman, the Chief Inspector, as to whether he had confidence in the Chief Executive of the SPA. Mr Penman replied that the Chief Executive struggled with “limited capacity.”

John Finnie said:

“It is imperative the Scottish Police Authority engages regularly with the Scottish Police Federation, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and UNISON. It is extremely concerning that this does not currently seem to be happening effectively. I find it difficult to understand how the SPA can have an informed overview of policing if they are failing to do this.

“I was particularly concerned that the report referred to the SPA board member’s full confidence in the Chair. I find it difficult to believe that the board members, having seen the detailed concerns raised by two Committees of the Scottish Parliament, still express such support. This itself raises serious questions about the board.

“It is clear from the report, and the evidence provided to the Sub-Committee by Mr Penman, that the Chief Executive and the Chair of the SPA have a chaotic relationship. There are clearly issues around the capacity of the Chief Executive.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Justice must take urgent action following this report to ensure that there is public confidence in the Scottish Police Authority and to enable it to perform its vital function effectively.”

Finnie Welcomes Continued Ship to Ship Scrutiny

John Finnie MSP today (22/06/2017) welcomed the decision of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee to keep Cromarty Rising’s petition on Ship-to-ship oil transfers and trust port accountability open.

Mr Finnie, who has been campaigning on this issue for well over a year, spoke in favour of the petition at the committee meeting – calling for greater clarity around responsibilities relating to ship to ship transfers.

Commenting after the committee John Finnie said:

“I am pleased that the Public Petitions Committee decided to further investigate this matter. There is clearly much confusion over the process for ship to ship oil applications and I am hopeful that further scrutiny will provide much needed clarity.

“The Scottish Government have adopted a ‘nothing to do with us’ approach to this issue yet there are clear roles for SEPA, SNH and Marine Scotland – all Scottish Government agencies – to play in the process.

“There also remains concerns that a response prepared by Marine Scotland was stymied by Ministers. This is deeply concerning and requires further scrutiny.”

Finnie wins Railway Policing Guarantee

Scottish Greens’ Justice Spokesperson, John Finnie MSP, has today (30/05/2017) won a commitment for British Transport Police (BTP) Officers transferring to Police Scotland over their future terms and conditions.

Mr Finnie moved an amendment, “Limitation on redeployment of constables,” during Stage 2 of the Justice Committee’s consideration of the Railway Policing Bill, proposing that any BTP officer who transfers into Police Scotland would continue to work on railway policing duties unless they themselves chose to move.

John Finnie said:

“The amendment puts a previous verbal assurance from Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins onto a statutory footing and will provide a greater level of reassurance to officers who wish to continue their careers within railway policing.

“I am grateful to Committee colleagues and indeed Transport Minister Humza Yousaf for supporting this change.”

Member’s Business Ship to Ship Oil Transfers

Yesterday John led a member’s debate in the Parliament on the proposals for ship to ship oil transfers to be carried out in the Moray and Cromarty Firths*.

Amongst those observing the debate were members of Cromarty Rising who travelled down from the Highlands and Moray. Cromarty Rising’s petition against these proposals has so far reached over 103,500 signatures so far.

John meeting members of Cromarty Rising as they delivered a petition to the Parliament in March 2017.

You can watch John’s speech below or you can read his speech underneath the video.


John Finnie:

“I thank colleagues for signing the motion, particularly my friend and colleague Claudia Beamish, whose signature ensured that the motion enjoyed cross-party support.

The motion congratulates Cromarty Rising, a number of members of which are in the gallery. It is an outstanding community organisation, as is evidenced by its opposition to the ship-to-ship transfer of oil in the Moray Firth. To my mind, that is real politics. Cromarty Rising has generated more than 100,000 signatures for a petition to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport and has garnered the support of 27 community councils. A number of people are actively involved in the organisation’s campaign—I would like to mention my immediate colleagues Anne Thomas and James MacKessack-Leitch—and it has prompted significant interest. The matter is now the subject of a live petition to the Public Petitions Committee.

I also thank all those who sent briefings. We have received lots of information, some of which is highly technical. As I am not a technical person, I will give members just a small bit of information. We are talking about the pumping of 2 tonnes of oil per second between ships. Therefore, any assessment that is based on a maximum spill volume of 1 tonne is not credible in determining impacts anywhere, least of all in a special area of conservation.

The application that we are talking about was from the Cromarty Firth Port Authority, which is a trust port. I do not fully understand the roles and responsibilities of a trust port, and I have posed a number of questions to the Scottish Government about that. However, we know that trust ports must have regard to the national marine plan and that they must also consult. The CFPA was therefore required to consult beyond the immediate confines of the Cromarty Firth and into the area of the Moray Firth, because the application related to the open sea. However, the CFPA failed spectacularly: it did next to no engagement and 27 community councils opposed the application.

Ship-to-ship transfer of oil has taken place within the confines of the Cromarty Firth for decades, and the motion makes it clear that there is no opposition to that. However, that happens in relative safety, with boats tied to a quay and well-documented back-up. This is a rescheduled debate on the motion; on the day before the debate was originally supposed to take place, I got an email from the CFPA that stated:

“The Port is working with Nigg’s owners to bring the terminal back into operation.”

That is good news and I hope that it obviates the need to pursue at-sea transfer.

It is important to note that there is no live application at the moment for at-sea transfer and that the previous application was returned undetermined last summer. However, the proposal was for ship-to-ship transfer to take place on the open seas of the Moray Firth, which is a European Union Natura 2000 special area of conservation for bottlenose dolphins; a Moray Firth special protection area for a wide range of seabirds is also proposed.

Roles and responsibilities are very important. This is not a party-political issue and it would be very unfortunate if it became such, but the minister will understand that my immediate colleagues share the Scottish Government’s wish to have all decision making on the issue take place in Scotland. At the moment, such decisions are for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is a UK body. Of Scottish bodies, Scottish Natural Heritage is the only statutory consultee, but there is clearly a role for Marine Scotland, as well as for the Scottish Government.

Ministers have repeatedly claimed that the Scottish Government was not formally invited to comment on the CFPA’s application. However, the CFPA’s agents sent Marine Scotland and others a copy of the application and a letter explaining how and by when they could make representations to the MCA. The press line subsequently used by the Scottish Government was that it was

“not aware of being directly approached by the UK Government during the consultation.”

That is misleading and disingenuous, minister. The wording appears to have been deliberately chosen so that the statement could be defended as being literally and strictly correct, given that Marine Scotland was not directly approached by the MCA but was approached by the CFPA’s agents and through a letter of formal consultation from the CFPA harbour master. The Scottish Government could and should have brought the serious environmental and non-environmental risks involved to the attention of the MCA. Of course, the Scottish Government must act responsibly within the existing framework for maritime matters, and it has a wider obligation to be a good neighbour.

I asked the cabinet secretary a question about the CFPA’s proposal and

“what assessment of risk to the marine wildlife, including orcas,”

the Scottish Government

“has made of the proposed ship-to-ship transfer in the Moray Firth.”

Roseanna Cunningham replied:

“The Scottish Government has no functions in relation to ship to ship oil transfer licenses. This is a matter reserved to the UK Government, and we continue to press for devolution of these powers to Scotland.”—[Written Answers, 3 June 2016; S5W-00285.]

That is most certainly an answer, but it is not an answer to the question that was posed, which is disappointing. Saying “It’s nothing to do with us” is no way for the Government to deal with an important issue. Thousands of people in Scotland and around the world have made their views known to the UK Government, and they have not been contacted by the UK Government. However, the campaigners know that a Scottish Government agency was contacted.

The environment is a devolved matter, so perhaps the minister can outline the responsibilities that he believes that the Scottish Government should have in relation to the issue. I received an email that said:

“The on-going ping-pong between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State around the devolved and reserved parameters of this issue detracts from the underlying obligation under the European Habitats Directive. The Scottish and UK Governments should act to prevent such risky activity in such a sensitive location by ensuring proper implementation of the Habitats Directive.”

I share that view.

I welcome what is an apparent change of tone, with the First Minister recently saying that she was “unconvinced” by the safety of ship-to-ship oil transfer in the Moray Firth.

As the minister will know, we have been here before—in 2007, with transfers in the Forth. My colleague Mark Ruskell will talk about that. At that time, one of Roseanna Cunningham’s predecessors in office said:

“even a scintilla of environmental risk is unacceptable.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2007; c 115.]

I hope that the minister will adopt that position now.

The proposal would create no new jobs and it would put at risk marine life of world significance and our most important industry: tourism. On the Moray coast, tourism brings in income of £108 million per annum and employs 2,600 people—one in 10 of the population. As a comparator, perhaps people will reflect on a name that they will know. It took six years to recover from the Braer disaster in Shetland.

There is a comparator that I would like to put to you, minister. Energy is a reserved matter, but everyone knows that there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland because the Scottish Government will use the powers that it has under planning legislation to ensure that they do not go ahead. That is the approach that I encourage you to take.

As we have only a short time for this debate, I will move to some final points. I hope, minister, that you will take the opportunity to respond to the various issues that I have raised on behalf of constituents.

Day-to-day operations involving the transfer of crude oil between ships at anchor at this location are highly likely to cause disturbance to bottlenose dolphins and other European protected species. That would equate to an offence under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations 1994. For any transfer operation to be undertaken legally, an EPS licence would be required under regulation 44. Scottish ministers, in the shape of Marine Scotland, would issue that licence, but it is evident that the tests for that licence could not be met without breaching the EU habitats directive.

I respectfully ask, minister, that you regain the vigour that the Scottish Government had in 2007 when the Forth was at threat. You have the power to stop this now. Please use the existing powers over the environment to evidence and resist any threat to our precious Moray Firth marine wildlife and to our coastal communities and the thousands of jobs that depend on our wildlife. Please confirm that an EPS licence will not be issued and, thereby, prevent ship-to-ship transfers in the Moray Firth. Our marine wildlife and our coastal communities deserve no less.”

*The debate was original scheduled for the 22nd of March. However, due to the terrorist attack in Westminster, the Parliament cancelled its business for the remainder of that day.

MS Awareness Week 2017

John spoke yesterday (26/04/17) in George Adam’s member’s debate on MS Awareness Week 2017, you can read the text of his speech and watch it below:

I congratulate George Adam on a number of things: on the motion; on his role in the cross-party group on MS, which works effectively with the assistance of the MS Society; on his promotion of the positive aspects of dealing with the pernicious thing that is MS; and on his generally positive outlook, which I imagine is an essential characteristic of the St Mirren fan. I wish him—if not his team—very well.

The motion

“welcomes this opportunity to put … MS … on the agenda”.

To many people in the chamber, and to about 11,000 people in Scotland, their carers and loved ones, MS is never off the agenda. I had forgotten that we did not have a debate last year, because such debates seem to have been a regular feature, but I have been reflecting on what might have happened to people in the past year, given the undulating nature of the condition, which George described very well.

Presiding Officer, if I were able to use a prop, I would hold up a newspaper with the headline:

“MS sufferer slams ‘awful’ benefits chiefs who axed her Motability car in favour of £65,000 taxis”.

There is no doubt that the welfare reform that the cruel and heartless Tory Government at Westminster has foisted on us has had an impact on everyone, not least the woman in the article, whose car was one of the 800 Motability cars that are being taken away every week. The decision was reflected on, and the same Government department ruled that the woman qualified for help to get to her work, so the Government is now paying £19,000 a year for taxis. That is the economics of the madhouse. The decision is deeply offensive to the woman in question, and it shows a heartlessness that we really do not want to see.

What we want to see, of course, is independence and mobility. There are many practical issues in that regard, with which I deal regularly, as I am sure that other members do. I was keen to support the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers case against driver-only operation and the loss of the safety-critical train guard, particularly when I heard that wheelchair-bound people are often carried beyond their stop because there is no assistance for them. The problem was eloquently explained to me by Gale Falconer, a friend in the Highlands who is an MS sufferer. In a meeting, she described the frustrations of travel, the planning that needs to go into it and the advice and support that are needed.

I am also dealing with someone with mobility issues in relation to the repeated failure of a lift at a ferry terminal. If we want to take a collaborative approach to the issue, we need to get such small things sorted. There are also challenges to do with bus travel, which are well known.

Although I have very limited time, I also want to talk about the challenges of recruiting specialists, be they neurologists or MS nurses. That has been touched on with regard to the situation in Lanarkshire. I am particularly concerned about the retention of specialist staff given the threat posed by Brexit.

There is a lot to be very positive about. I will not reiterate what was said in this afternoon’s carers debate, but there is a lot of common ground. Setting aside the partisan nature of some of the amendments that were lodged for that debate, there is a lot of recognition of the real benefit that carers provide.

The motion for this debate commends the charities, MS Society Scotland and the MS Trust, and I know about the good work that is happening across my area. In particular, I am aware of some innovative work in Moray. In fairly recent times I have visited MS therapy centres in Inverness, Kirkwall, Oban, Lochgilphead and Portree. There is much to be positive about and there are a lot of challenges, but people who suffer from MS need to know that the people in the chamber give them their unqualified support.

Once again, I thank George Adam for lodging the motion.

John Finnie Congratulates Roots and Shoots on Award

John Finnie MSP has congratulated Badenoch and Strathspey based Roots and Shoots on being awarded the Highland Council’s Play Improvement Group’s annual Highland Play Award.

Roots and Shoots is a not for profit social enterprise launched in May 2016 with the aim of increasing outdoor play opportunities for all in Badenoch and Strathspey and the Cairngorms.

John said:

“I would like to congratulate Roots and Shoots on winning the Highland Play Award.

“Encouraging children and families to play outdoors is of vital importance to childhood development and this award recognises the organisations that have done the most to promote play in their region.

“I very much welcome the work Highland Council’s Play Improvement Group does to promote self-directed free play with daily access to the outdoors

“Roots and Shoots is a fine example of a not for profit social enterprise which works for the benefit of its local community by aiming to increase outdoor play opportunities for all in Badenoch, Strathspey, and the Cairngorms.

“Their aim of supporting disadvantaged families in Badenoch and Strathspey to play outdoor is admirable and I wish them great success in their work in the future.”

John’s Speech in New Independence Referendum Debate

The Scottish Parliament will today complete the debate on the proposal to push for a section 30 order for a new independence referendum. The debate was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the 21st and 22nd respectively. Due to the terror attack in Westminster, the debate last Wednesday was halted and will take place today (28th March).

John spoke during the open session of the debate on the Tuesday, you can read or watch his speech below.


John Finnie:

I have not heard anyone say anything other than that Scotland finds itself in a significantly changed position. We, on these benches, because of that significant and material change to which the First Minister alluded, believe that the Scottish Government has an unquestionable mandate to take the course of action that it has taken. Likewise, the Scottish Green Party has an unquestionable mandate to pursue the section 30 order on the basis of a conference decision.

People have made many particular points at times, but nothing stands still and we have moved forward considerably. In fairness to Ruth Davidson, she referred to Brexit as “a major challenge” to our country. It is unfortunate that the single market options have been ruled out; it is also extremely unfortunate that there was not a willingness to engage in negotiations.

A number of people have talked about the need to consider the implications of Brexit, and that is what I will do in the brief time that I have. Members might well think that the most appropriate person to consult on the implications of Brexit would be the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and might take some reassurance from the fact that he said:

“I do my job on the basis of facts”.

We know that the PM has repeatedly insisted that leaving the EU with no trade deal is better than a bad deal. However, Mr Davis has admitted that leaving the EU without a deal will lead to new tariffs and other barriers to trade. Although he said that the UK Government

“could not quantify the outcome”,

he acknowledged that there would be significant implications if that were to happen.

I will list some of those implications: the loss of financial passporting, the loss of the EU open skies agreement and the possibility of the reintroduction of border checks between the north and the Republic of Ireland. Mr Davis also acknowledged that leaving the customs union could cause delays at customs—that may be the case at the moment, but the situation would be exacerbated—and it would probably cost UK tourists access to free health insurance cards.

When asked whether the Tory Government had made an assessment of the economic impact of all the changes, he said that that

“is not possible to calculate.”

He added:

“I cannot quantify it for you in detail … I may well … do so in about a year’s time”

and insisted:

“You do not have to have a piece of paper with a number on it to have an economic assessment.”

That is genuine frontier gibberish, as far as I am concerned.

We know from a leaked Treasury forecast last year, when George Osborne was chancellor, that crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organization terms could cost the UK 7.5 per cent in lost GDP growth by 2030.

The important issue for me is what all this means for our EU citizen friends and neighbours who are in the UK. The loss of freedom of movement would not be one way, and freedom of movement is key to the Scottish Green Party’s internationalist philosophy. Conversely, using those friends and neighbours as crude bargaining chips fits entirely with the Tory UK Government’s calculated pandering to xenophobes and, lest we forget, with the Labour Party and its now infamous immigration control mugs. The reality is that the UK has taken an unfortunate lurch to the right. Freedom of movement is a fundamental, non-negotiable foundation stone of the kind of Scotland that we want to see.

The implications have already started to show in higher education. Who will apply to university if they are unsure whether they will be permitted to stay, or indeed whether they will be welcome? Applications are down. That is unfortunate, because last year, when I represented the independent group on a joint team that was looking at post-study visas, there was cross-party consensus. Indeed, Liz Smith from the Conservatives was extremely helpful in making representations at UK level. It is unfortunate that that is not where we are now.

John Scott (intervention):

Does Mr Finnie think that the First Minister’s priority is still education?

John Finnie:

It is for the First Minister to say what her priorities are.

The implications for research funding are already becoming a reality, as is the loss of valuable researchers. As Times Higher Education reported yesterday, under the headline,

“Brexit: ‘fantastic’ UK researchers head for Canada”,

the University of Waterloo is recruiting British academics who are worried about their future and their families. It is perhaps not ironic, given that the university is located in Ontario, close to the American border, that it has experienced a similar flow of United States academics looking to move since Donald Trump’s election.

There are broader implications for research into climate change and disease. Science is global, and many of the world-leading programmes in which the UK is currently involved cannot be scaled down to national level. In such matters there should always be the maximum international co-operation.

Why do we support the timeframe that the First Minister outlined? The Scottish Green Party is deeply concerned that the decision about Scotland’s future and that of our EU citizens should take place before those citizens are disenfranchised—that important point is catered for in our amendment. I hope that our EU nationals all hang around to vote for a positive future, but we know that EU nationals are already leaving. I know of a Polish gentleman who manages a restaurant in Inverness; he is learning German, because he sees his future in that country. He is not going to hang around.

We have a growing ageing population. That is something to celebrate, as members said. The Highlands need to import people, and the Scottish Greens warmly welcome the First Minister’s invitation to people to come and live in Scotland. We know that people who have come are net contributors—although I do not view such things in the light of cold economics. They have certainly enriched our country.

The EU was set up with laudable aims and it would be disappointing if the United Kingdom played a part in its fragmentation.

The timeframe is right, and the details of negotiations will be known. Scotland’s EU citizens can have their say, and the people of Scotland are sovereign, as Bruce Crawford said. There must be an informed choice about two futures. One of those is riddled with uncertainty, with the only guarantee being that the UK’s elites—the bankers, the generals and the public schoolboys—will continue to benefit from the growing inequality that is an essential part of the UK’s DNA. The alternative is a chance to make our own choices—yes, in uncharted waters—and to work together to make social and environmental justice the foundation stones of our future, with a just and welcoming Scotland taking its place among the countless other small independent nations of the world.