John’s Speech on the Scottish Government’s Programme

Yesterday (02/09/2015) John spoke to the Scottish Government’s published Programme for Government available here (, you can read John’s response below.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

There is much to be commended in the Government’s programme for the coming year, not least with regard to workers’ rights. I very much welcome the abolition of employment tribunal fees. The imposition of those fees had the desired effect, as we have heard, with a 70 per cent reduction in cases. I agree with the First Minister that that was a very positive early use of the powers.

Similarly, I welcome the reduced threshold in relation to the duty to publish information on the gender pay gap. I commend the fact that the Scottish Government supports the 50:50 by 2020 campaign, but that must apply across the public sector. Only yesterday I raised that issue in the Justice Committee with regard to the composition of the Scottish sentencing council.

I commend collaborative work across the chamber, within and outwith the chamber, and the fair work convention is an example of that.

Also mentioned in the programme for government is developing the young workforce, and the issue of a per head payment for training rather than a payment to providers that reflects the costs incurred must be looked at again.

The use of language is very important and I commend the use of the word “partners” rather than “opponents”. We see an opportunity for unity in a large section of the chamber around the issues of the trade union bill and the lobbying bill. I welcome the Labour Party’s positive approach to that.

Many members in the chamber—including me—have been involved to a small extent in the private tenancies living rent campaign. That is a significant issue across the country, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.

I welcome the abolition of the bedroom tax and I am delighted that the Scottish Government included in the programme for government the comment that

“greater equality is good for economic growth”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2015; c 16.]

That is the case.

The rural housing fund is to be commended but, of course, that is not without its challenges too, because access to land to build those very houses is a challenge. I took the opportunity to stop and speak, outwith the Parliament this morning, to the our land campaign. The campaign has sent all members a list of what I think are very modest and reasonable requests for us to follow. It asks us to:

“1. Reinstate the requirement for all land-owning entities (like companies) to be registered in a member state of the EU.”

I will not go through the full list but I will go to the fourth request, which says:

“4. Acknowledge that this Land Reform Bill won’t solve the problem of unaffordable and unavailable land in Scotland and prepare to adopt further measures in the next parliament to tackle land taxation, lack of information about land ownership, derelict and vacant land, absentee landlordism and the exorbitant cost of land for housing.”

I hope that in future we will see some unity about that.

The planning review is welcome, but it is not just about having a review for the sake of it. I am interested to know what consequences there could be for the Gypsy Traveller community, for instance, who have long been neglected in the process, and whether there will be issues about their tenancy, which we have been assured will be addressed. Similarly, will the investment of £60 million in primary care enhance life expectancy, which is already much lower for the Gypsy Traveller community? I hope so, but the evidence for that remains to be seen.

The First Minister stated:

“The success of our economy is essential to all our aims”

and the aspiration is

“to become the real northern powerhouse … We will do that not by a race to the bottom … We will continue to support our oil and gas industry.”—[Official Report, 1 September 2015; c 13-14.]

It is certainly the view of members in this area of the chamber that the way in which we would support that industry is through a just transition to a low-carbon economy. I commend the “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy” report by Mika Minio-Paluello. That outlines the fact that we have 470 platforms in the North Sea, 10,000km of pipelines and 5,000 wells that will need to be decommissioned over the next 30 years. It also states:

“Costs over the next decade are estimated at £14.6 billion”.

That is not an estimate by the Scottish Green Party; it is an estimate by Oil & Gas UK, with those costs rising to £40 billion by 2040.

This year, Shell’s enormous Brent Delta platform has been partially dismantled and shipped to Teesside, and 97 per cent of it will be recycled. It would take 12 years to dismantle the entire Brent oil field, and that alone would require 1,000 offshore workers.

There is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to position Aberdeen as a global centre of decommissioning skills. That could be linked to the failed climate change targets. I acknowledge the baseline change and the UK Government’s cynical policy shift, but adopting the same approach will not change things.

Air passenger duty is an aspect of that. We heard how Stuart McMillan is looking forward to the increasing flow of people being involved in recreational sailing. I, too, would welcome that. However, I hope that they would sail or take the train here. If the air travel costs are reduced, there will be a modal shift.

Stuart McMillan:

My point was that a third of the people who berth in Scotland live in the south-east of England. Some may want to travel by train; others may want to fly.

John Finnie:

I commend the existing excellent cross-border rail services. I hope that the member would commend them, too.

The programme for government mentions investment hubs. I would have liked to see it include reference to goods rail hubs. A city the size of Dundee does not have a goods rail hub. If Invergordon had a hub, there would be a clear linkage with decommissioning goods. In response to a parliamentary question, I was told that the issue is not a Government matter. Of course it is a Government matter. We must work together.

There is a lot to commend in the programme, but there is no mention of Gaelic and no mention of drugs. I would add that the money that has had to be allocated to mitigate the UK Government’s welfare reforms could be much better spent