We urgently need a just transition

This article first appeared in the Shetland Times.

In parliament recently I raised a new report, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Stop Climate Chaos, called Quantifying the implications of the Paris Agreement: What role for Scotland? with the Environment Minister.

The report outlines the need to leave the majority of fossil fuel reserves we already know about in the ground and I was therefore dismayed at the response to reports that Total, at the end of last month, had made a major gas find off Shetland.

It really is very simple; for Shetland, Scotland, Europe and our planet; we cannot afford to use the reserves we already know about and if we want to prevent the worst excesses of climate change then we certainly cannot afford to seek out and exploit any new reserves.

Academic research commissioned by the Scottish Green Party shows that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be created if we bite the bullet and transition from our oil and gas based economy to one built on renewable energy sources.

When I raised this matter in the Parliament, I highlighted the important role the Highlands and Islands, not least the Shetland Isles, can play in this transition.

Shetland already has superb facilities at Pedersen’s yard in Lerwick for decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure and another site at Dales Voe has just been identified as the optimal location for an “ultra deep water” decommissioning port.

This is vital not only for Shetland but Scotland and the changing role for the North Sea and it should guarantee steady employment for years to come. We must focus on the jobs that can be created in new technologies, which are better for us all, and essential for our survival as a species. It is time to leave the age of fossil fuels behind us.

Scotland has one quarter of Europe’s tidal resource and one tenth of its wave resource. Our island communities are in prime position to take advantage of emerging technologies, such as those being developed across the water at the European Marine Energy Centre in Stromness. The opportunities to boost local economies and create jobs are staring us in the face, whilst a focus on continued oil and gas extraction, from both Scottish and UK Government’s, limits long-term opportunities and damages our climate change ambitions .

A proposed new wind farm in the Highlands will have its towers built in Motherwell and this emphasises the opportunities which exist for the whole of Scotland to benefit from investment in a cleaner economy.

Climate change is increasingly a focus for world leaders and, as highlighted by the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report this week, it’s vital Scotland seizes the day and becomes a world leader in green technologies.

This is not something that we can be allowed to fail at; to do so would invite catastrophe for our environment, our economy and our future. We need to end our reliance on finite fossil fuels and seize the opportunities available to us through our natural renewable sources such as wind, wave and tidal.

Green MSP Slams Serco Over Sleeper Delays

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has slammed Caledonian Sleeper operator Serco for its failure to deliver new trains on time.

The company has claimed that the process of testing and gaining the necessary regulatory and operating approvals for the new carriages was “time-consuming and complex”.

Serco has claimed that its new fleet will now be operational by May, although services in the Highlands be the last to come into service.

Mr Finnie said:

“The Caledonian Sleeper provides an important link from Scotland to England, but the current rolling stock is long past its best and passengers rightly expect a good quality service on a modern train. It is therefore extremely disappointing that Serco has failed to live up to its commitment to deliver this new rolling stock on time.

“The company should not be surprised at the process for testing and regulating new carriages and its attempt to blame this for the delay is quite frankly absurd.

“Serco only has itself to blame for its failure to deliver, and as usual it will be my constituents in the Highlands who are forced endure the longest wait for improved trains. I would encourage the Scottish Government to reflect on its decision to award this contract to such an unscrupulous company and urge them to bring Sleeper services back into public ownership at the earliest opportunity. Our railways should be run in the interest of public service, not private profit.”

Finnie Calls on Scottish Government and HIE to Support Salmon Company Staff

John Finnie MSP has today called on Scottish Government Ministers and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to step in to protect jobs in Dingwall.

Following the announcement that the Dingwall site of the Edinburgh Salmon Company could be closed, Mr Finnie wrote to Scottish Government Ministers and HIE to ensure that all available steps are taken by both to assist Edinburgh Salmon Company and its workers in finding suitable buyers to prevent closure of the site and a loss of jobs.

Commenting Mr Finnie said:

“This is desperately disappointing news from the Edinburgh Salmon Company, and will come as a blow to all those workers on site. I have sought assurances that the Scottish Government and HIE will make every possible effort to assist the Edinburgh Salmon Company in finding a buyer for the site and provide full assistance to the workforce as need.

“I fervently hope that a solution can be found to safeguard the jobs at the site, which is a significant employer for Dingwall.”

Northern Isles Ferry Service Must Put Communities First

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to put the needs of communities at the forefront of its thinking, as it announced early details of the Northern Isles Ferry Services tendering process.

Mr Finnie is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that public ferry operator Calmac is in a position to tender for this contract, as a prelude to the permanent nationalisation of the Northern Isles routes. This would ensure that the significant public subsidy that goes to these services would secure sustainable returns for remote communities, rather than Serco shareholders.

The Scottish Government must also ensure that workers terms and conditions are protected, and not allow private operators to undermine these. This is best achieved by ensuring that Trade Unions RMT and Nautilus are included in discussions at all stages.

Commenting, John Finnie said:

“I believe that the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services should be run exclusively in the interest of my constituents in Orkney and Shetland, rather than for private profit. The Scottish Green Party has consistently called for these services to be run as a public service. The Scottish Government could still deliver this by ensuring that Calmac come in with a strong bid in the tendering process.

“The significant public subsidy that goes to these routes should be used to the benefit of island communities and that simply doesn’t happen when you put a disreputable company such as Serco in charge.

“One thing the Scottish Government can and must commit to is protecting the terms and conditions of the workforce. I am therefore calling on Ministers to ensure that RMT and Nautilus are involved at every step in the tendering process to ensure this is prioritised.”

John Publishes His Member’s Bill

 

Today (7th September) John , Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, has published his Member’s Bill to give children equal protection from assault.

If passed the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill will see Scotland join more than 50 other countries around the world in ensuring that children are protected from physical punishment.

A public consultation last year which ran from 11 May until 4 August and received more than 650 responses with almost 75 per cent of respondents in favour of the Bill. John earned the right to introduce a bill in October 2017 after 31 of his MSP colleagues across all five parties represented in the Parliament offered their support for the Bill’s introduction. John also received the support of the Scottish Government in its Programme for Government both last year and this year.

Supporters of the bill  included the Scottish Police Federation, Rape Crisis Scotland, Barnardo’s Scotland, the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, the Equality & Human Rights Commission, Children 1st, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Scottish Women’s Aid, the NSPCC and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland.

Mr Finnie said:

“I am delighted to be formally lodging my bill to give children equal protection from assault in the Scottish Parliament today. Children deserve the same legal protection from assault that adults enjoy, a position that children’s rights organisations and charities have long been arguing. Substantial academic research from around the world shows that physical punishment does not work and is shown to be counterproductive; my bill aims to support parents to make positive choices. The Bill will not change the way that Police and Social Work deal with assault against children. Rather it establishes the principle that assault can never be ‘justifiable’.

“I would like to thank again all those who responded to my consultation and to my colleagues for lending me their support to introduce this bill. I would also like to thank the clerks in the Scottish Parliament, civil servants across the Scottish Government and my own staff for their advice and support in drafting the bill and the associated documents.

“I look forward to parliament examining the bill and stand ready to make the case that providing equal protection for children and ending justifiable assault will show that Scotland really is the best place in the world to grow up.”

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council, said:

“The Church of Scotland welcomes the introduction of the Proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill as an important step in ensuring that children are given the same protection as adults. It is time that we, as a society, stated clearly that physical punishment cannot be part of normal family life.”

Leading QC Janys M Scott said:

“Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment and that is an absolute – there are no exceptions. States have a positive duty of protection to children and it is right that Scotland is now addressing this.”

Professor Steve Turner, Officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“I strongly believe it is not acceptable to hit a child. Physical punishment can teach a child that physical violence is part of a normal healthy lifestyle. It can increase the likelihood of that child going on to be aggressive in later life themselves, leading to a vicious cycle of physical violence, bred through generations. Physical punishment is also linked to an increase in a child’s later risk for anxiety, depression and problems with self-esteem.

“As a children’s doctor, there is nothing I want more than for children to be protected, as adults currently are, from assault. Physical punishment is counterproductive and cruel so the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill is very much welcome. With this bill, we have the opportunity to be leaders in child protection, and to show our children the respect they deserve. I now call on our neighbours in England and Northern Ireland to catch up, follow Scotland’s lead, the Welsh Government has committed to do likewise, and provide all children, regardless of where they live in the UK, with the same level of protection.”

Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland said:

“We are absolutely delighted to see the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament today. This legal change to provide children in Scotland with equal protection from physical assault within the law has been a long time coming, but in the Year of Young People this is an important moment for the rights of children.

“Through our work with children, young people and families, we know how important positive, healthy attachments and relationships are. Children’s brains develop best when they feel safe and when they are nurtured.

“We want to see a society and culture where no violence against children is acceptable and this Bill provides a clear statement of intent. We congratulate John Finnie MSP and the Scottish Green Party for driving forwards this important agenda and look forward to continuing to support the progression of this Bill”

Mary Glasgow, interim Chief Executive, Children 1st, Scotland’s national children’s charity, said: “We warmly welcome the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which will amend the archaic law that gives children, the smallest, most vulnerable members of our society, less protection from physical harm than anybody else.

“John Finnie MSP’s Bill will ensure Scots law clearly reflects both the overwhelming scientific evidence we now have that children need to grow up with respectful,  warm and supportive relationships with the adults around them and the wide body of research which clearly confirms that physical punishment doesn’t work and can be harmful.

“John and the Green Party have led the way in progressing this important piece of legislation, which has widespread support across the Parliament and society. When it passes, the Bill will give families clarity and help achieve the ambition of making Scotland the best place for children to grow up.”

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland Bruce Adamson said:

“We should never consider the assault of a child for the purposes of punishment to be justifiable. I commend John Finnie for introducing his Member’s Bill to remove the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. This is long overdue – allowing the assault of children goes against the basic values that we hold in Scotland in terms of human dignity and respect for children.

“The United Nations, Council of Europe and other international human rights bodies have been unequivocal – children’s right to protection from violence and to equal protection under the law means that states must enact legislation which prohibits, without exception, all forms of corporal punishment of children in all settings. Scotland is one of the last countries in Europe to amend our law to protect children, and I welcome the fact that we now have broad political support for the change.

“Removing the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ will not create a new criminal offence; most forms of physical assault against children are already against the law. This change will simply ensure that children in Scotland enjoy the same protections from violent punishment as adults.”

Greens Raise Concerns with HIE about Their Role with Cairngorm Mountain

Highlands and Islands Green politicians have raised community concerns with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) about its role in the running of the Cairngorm Mountain business.

John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has written Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE, posing a detailed series of questions from constituents regarding the considerable public money made available to the present operator, Naturalretreats.

Mr Finnie’s letter asks HIE to, “justify the loss of employment since their choice of tenant took over.” This follows direct redundancies in 2014 and a further reduction in employment due to the snowsports market share collapse. Mr Finnie points out that Cairngorm has the four lowest ever market shares, worryingly all recorded on the last 5 season, with just 23.6% of the market in 2017/18.

Badenoch and Strathspey Green Councillor Pippa Hadley said:

“We are keen to understand how HIE considers it has strengthened the local community over the last 4 years in light of the loss of custom on the hill, and consequently throughout Badenoch and Strathspey, leading to a knock-on impact on employment levels.

“HIE’s role is to ensure public monies are not only wisely dispersed but also deliver the widest possible community benefit and I am not convinced the communities I represent within Cairngorm National Park feel HIE is delivering on this aspect of its remit.”

Mr Finnie added:

“It would also be helpful to know why the operator has been permitted to apply for planning permission for an artificial slope in advance of the uplift review report being received form the SE group and why the operator is pursuing an unsustainable artificial slope development when small scale Hydro Turbines in Coire Cas and Coire na Ciste would provide a much greater and guaranteed return on investment as well as reducing the business cost base, regardless of the weather or the footfall on the hill.

“I’m advised that ‘HIE chose to remove the Coire na Ciste and West Wall Chairlifts in advance of spending around 80k of public money on an uplift review consultancy’ and, quite understandably, my constituents want to know why the cost of recommissioning these chairlifts was not established prior to a demolition decision and why was the demolition decision taken on the basis of a report that condemned some of the chairlift tower concrete bases but not the actual towers themselves.

“There are issues too about planning for extending and revamping the Ptarmigan building at a cost of about £2million pounds from a publicly funded loan and, as ever, disputes over numbers forecasts.

“Also, whilst very supportive of the Badenoch and Strathspey area, I have responsibilities for other areas with winter sports and there’s some cause to believe that, with regard to that industry, HIE have placed all the eggs in one basket, not a geographic area, rather thrown their lot in with a company with a questionable background.”

HIE Cairngorm
John’s letter to HIE

Finnie welcomes Coul Links ‘Call in’

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has today (24/08/2018) welcomed news that the Scottish Government will ‘call in’ the Coul Links planning application.

Mr Finnie wrote to the Scottish Government in June requesting that they call in the application.

Coul Links 1
John Finnie MSP at Coul Links

Commenting, Mr Finnie said:

“I’m delighted that the Scottish Government has taken the decision to call in the Coul Links application. There are serious concerns that this proposed development could irreparably damage the magnificent natural dune environment at Coul Links and I am pleased the Minister has recognised the need for further scrutiny. I have been making the case that the significant protections afforded to this site must actually mean something, as have conservation charities, and even the Scottish Government’s own natural heritage agency objected. Now that this application rests with the Scottish Ministers I know the many Highlanders that have been in touch with me in recent months will be expecting them to thoroughly scrutinise the environmental evidence – something the Highland Council failed to do – and in the face of that overwhelming evidence, reject the application.”

Coul Links- Call in
John’s letter requesting the application be called in.