Rail passengers deserve action on overcrowding

Railways back in public ownership: Not for profit; Improved services; Reduced fares.John Finnie has welcomed the announcement of a public bid to run ScotRail, but says passengers also need immediate changes to relieve overcrowding and make compensation easier to get.

John is transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, and will ask Transport Minister Humza Yousaf for action today in the Scottish Parliament.

Scotrail operator Abellio has been forced to produce a performance improvement plan by Transport Scotland, and the Mr Yousaf is due to make a statement on the problems with the service at 2.40pm this afternoon.

John is asking for passengers to automatically receive a form to claim a refund when performance is poor, rather than having to search for one. He is also urging immediate capital improvements to station facilities so that passengers have warm, comfortable rooms in which to wait for their connections.

Longer-term, the Greens want to see additional staff hired to ensure services flow smoothly, for staff to be consulted on ways to get punctuality and reliability back up to standard, and for Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved so that responsibility for rail infrastructure rests with the Scottish Government.

John Finnie said:

“Greens have long called for Scotland’s railways to be publicly-run as they are a public service. While we’ve yet to hear directly from the transport minister on this point, it is welcome that he has spoken of the need to prepare a public sector bid.

“In the short-term, passengers deserve action to improve the current dismal situation. Far too often commuters either have to stand all the way or they simply can’t board a train due to overcrowding. Abellio need to understand that poor service is unacceptable, and that offers of compensation should be automatic and easy to complete.

“Occasional delays and technical problems are understandable, and these can be made bearable by providing decent facilities for passengers. Our ageing stations are long overdue modernisation. We also need to ensure appropriate staffing levels and involve the staff themselves in any improvement plans as they know best how the service can be improved.

“Public transport has been overlooked by the Scottish Government for too long. It’s a shame it has taken till now for them to notice. Greens stand ready to offer constructive solutions to make Scotland’s railway the high quality public service it should be.”

Argyll police stations face closure threat

John Finnie 2John Finnie has written to the Chief Constable after it emerged that dozens of police stations – including several in Argyll – are under threat of closure.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Scotland has revealed that Police Scotland buildings in 58 locations are being reviewed, including Oban, Loghgilphead, Campbelltown, Inverary and Taynuilt.

John is the Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for the Highlands and Islands. He said:

“Of course all organisations should review processes.

“I don’t doubt some of these buildings will be less than ideal for modern needs, some of the locations on the list are very worrying whilst closure of any of the Argyll stations is unacceptable.

“With five stations in Argyll under threat suggests we could have next to no visible police presence on the West coast at all.

“While many people do use phone and the internet to interact with police, there is still a significant number of people – many elderly and vulnerable – who do not. Accessibility is paramount.

“In the past, Police Scotland have handled counter closures badly, so lessons must be learned.

“While there is much to be said for co-location of public services, such as Police and Fire or Police and Council sharing, we must prevent withdrawal from communities.

“Public confidence is vital. I look forward to the Chief Constable’s reply.”

John uncovers £18.5m government handout to arms industry

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has asked the Scottish Government to stop bankrolling the arms industry, after discovering that two of its agencies have handed out £18.5m in support for the trade.

In response to a Parliamentary Question from John, Economy Secretary Keith Brown MSP revealed that over the last ten years Scottish Enterprise has given the arms insustry £15.1m, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise has given £3.4m, to support development, manufacture or marketing.

John said:

“It is rank hypocrisy for SNP MPs to, as they have, condemn the sale of arms from the UK while at the same time the SNP Government is handing out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to support that very industry. The scale of funding will shock many people, and I think the public will rightly be angry that public funds are being used to encourage such an abhorrent trade.

“By supporting the making and selling of guns and bombs our enterprise agencies are squandering vital funds. They must rethink their approach and invest instead in meaningful, lasting employment.

“Scottish Government ministers must lead by example. Instead of praising bomb-makers they should face up to modern-day security challenges: conflict over resources, climate change, cyber security and terrorism. They should stop funding outdated and immoral businesses and focus efforts on peace and human security.”

John’s speech on Brexit, justice and security

2014-11-11-jf-human-rights-debateJohn spoke in today’s debate on Scotland’s economy on behalf of the Scottish Greens. The debate discussed this motion by Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice:

Motion S5M-02203: Michael Matheson, Falkirk West, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/10/2016
UK Referendum on EU Membership: Impacts on Justice and Security in Scotland

That the Parliament acknowledges the result of the UK referendum on EU membership in Scotland; recognises the continuing importance of EU membership to Scotland; acknowledges the benefits to the justice system of EU-wide cooperation and the extent to which the current Scottish justice system is shaped and informed by EU law, as well as the benefits to Scotland’s mixed legal system, which includes civilian elements; notes that any repeal of the EU justice and law enforcement measures will have an impact on the effectiveness of law enforcement and an increase in costs in law enforcement procedures due to the lack of harmonised systems and standards already established; acknowledges the pivotal role played by EUROPOL in facilitating and supporting the international cooperation necessary to combat cross-border crime and terrorism; resolves to promote Scotland’s willingness to continue to collaborate with European partners, and calls on the UK Government to ensure that Scotland has a role in the decision-making, as well as full involvement in all negotiations between the UK Government and the EU, to protect Scotland’s independent justice system.

John’s speech is below. You can see it in the full debate transcript here, or watch it on YouTube here.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green):

I think it is very important that we debate the subject. As we heard from Jenny Marra, justice is a top priority for our citizens, and an obligation is placed on any state, however it is configured, to see to the security of its citizens and provide justice for them. Key to that is collaborative working, and that is what the European project was about. It was not about setting aside the unique nature of Scots law; it was the mix that was important.

In my view, the clear motivation for the European Union referendum was disengagement from that sort of approach. That has led to alienation and, in some respects, disrespect for the United Kingdom and, by default, Scotland, and I think that it has put security at risk. It has been gesture politics and we continue to hear gesture politics.

We have been there before — I think that only the cabinet secretary has briefly alluded to this — when it came to the Lisbon treaty, which was agreed in 2009. A final decision on United Kingdom participation in 133 justice and police co-operation measures required to be taken no later than 31 May 2014. A convoluted process was involved in that, but nonetheless there was a five-year window following the Lisbon treaty and there was ample opportunity for the UK Government to engage with the devolved Administrations on whether to exercise the block opt-out. After the Lisbon agreement, the arrangements were that it was possible to come in on an individual basis but, for the measures that were agreed before it, a block opt-out had to be exercised.

The important point there was that, despite letters from the Scottish ministers as far on as in April and August 2012, there was very little action. It was clear that the Scottish Government’s position was that some elements that were part of the pre-2009 agreement were defunct and had limited impact. However — it is a big however — there were other significant measures, which have continually been alluded to, including the investigation of cross-border crimes, measures to bring serious organised criminals to justice and the European arrest warrant, Scotland’s experience of which has been entirely positive.

What is at risk if we do not have that approach? I will miss out the names, but examples were given to those of us who were on the Justice Committee at that time. The Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame, and my colleague Margaret Mitchell will be familiar with this. We heard about a murder case in which the individual was arrested within a day of the extradition request being issued and was swiftly returned to Scotland. Importantly, the warrant allowed the seizure of clothing and other property before it could be destroyed, which would have affected the evidential value, and it led to a successful prosecution.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (Lib Dem):

I join John Finnie in supporting the European arrest warrant, but he said that it had been wholly successful. Even as somebody who supports the warrant, I note that some legitimate concerns have been raised about the proportionality test for those extraditions. Further work will need to be done in that area, without detracting from the support that is rightly given to the warrant itself.

John Finnie:

The member makes an interesting point but, if it is a numbers game, it has to be seen that it is 5 million people versus the entire population of the remainder of the EU, so it does look disproportionate. The important thing is the speed and efficiency with which action was undertaken.

Another example that we were given involved a violent attack and a murder in 2012. The individual was arrested through the European arrest warrant system within five hours of the issue of the arrest warrant, but also — importantly — by direct contact between the Scottish and Polish authorities under the European judicial network. We need to consider not simply the police operations, which are very important for all the reasons that we have heard, but the value of co-operation at the judicial and prosecutorial level.

There was support from the Scottish ministers, the police, the prosecutors, legal professionals, academics and the House of Lords European Union Select Committee inquiry, which took the view that the benefits of opting out of defunct or ineffective pre-Lisbon measures did not justify the risk of losing those measures that are essential in tackling cross-border crime.

The most telling aspect of what we learned at the time, when the Presiding Officer was convener of the Justice Committee, was that the UK ministers did not consult the Scottish ministers or the Scottish justice agencies on the matter. Although 35 of the measures were ultimately opted back into, I would hate to think that we are about to see that model again. If we did see it, that would be bad news for law enforcement, the judicial network, our civil law and our contractual law, and it would be good news for those who seek to circumvent the law — most commonly criminals. The benefits of the European arrest warrant are well understood.

The issue of taking evidence was raised by my colleague Claire Baker, and there have been developments in that field both in this jurisdiction and elsewhere — another opportunity that could be lost.

The briefing from the Law Society of Scotland, for which I am grateful, talks about stability in the law and says:

“The primary objective of judicial security and police cooperation is the safety of the citizen, as a guiding principle there should be no change to the law which would prejudice the safety and security of the individual.”

We simply do not know. At the moment, lots of guessing is taking place. Going back to the Lisbon agreement, the concern was that, if that had not been concluded in time, we needed reassurance in Scotland about the potential gap in legislation. I think that a big gap is potentially opening up.

The Scottish Green Party will support the Labour Party’s amendment, because we think that it is important that there is analysis. It is also important that we consider the issue of transitional arrangements. For any piece of legislation, we know what has happened in the past and we can perhaps agree what is going to happen in the future; all the complexity is in the transition.

The Scottish Green Party will support the Scottish Government’s efforts to ensure the following for people living in Scotland: that their democratic wishes are respected; that they have access to a quality legal system that co-operates with others; and that their security is assured, which is best achieved by conflict resolution. We believe that all those things are being put at risk by Tory recklessness.

British UN vote shows we need independence to scrap Trident

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has called on all those committed to nuclear disarmament to back an independent Scotland, after the United Kingdom refused to join with 123 United Nations members in their call for a global summit to abolish nuclear weapons.

John urged Jeremy Corbyn supporters in Scotland to back scrapping Trident via independence, calling it the “only realistic prospect” of removing nuclear weapons from Britain.

He said:

“Instead of siding with the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in voting to set up a conference to negotiate ways of prohibiting and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the UK voted with the nuclear club states who continue to stand in the way of progress on disarmament.

“Those members of Scottish Labour who want a nuclear-free world must now accept that Jeremy Corbyn’s party no longer offers a British road to disarmament. The only realistic prospect of removing Trident from Scotland and to join with countries like Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa in saying ‘no’ to nuclear weapons, is for Scotland to become an independent country and vocal member of the international community.

“I urge those Labour members to join the Greens and others in this campaign.”

John calls for review of court rules to protect rape victims

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to investigate whether current laws are sufficient to prevent defence lawyers using rape victims’ sexual history against them in court.

Introducing a complainant’s sexual history as evidence was, in theory, banned in most cases by the 2002 Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) Act. But in the first three months of this year, there were 57 applications to use sexual history evidence, of which only 9 were refused. Prosecutors only opposed 6 of the applications.

Despite similar laws being in place in England, the sexual history of the complainant was made a central part of the footballer Ched Evans’ successful appeal against his conviction for rape. This evidence was described by Rape Crisis Scotland as “blatantly prejudicial,” and contributed to the campaign of public shaming, harassment and threats she experienced.

Click here to read John Finnie's letter to the Justice Secretary (PDF).
Click here to read John Finnie’s letter to the Justice Secretary.
John is the Justice Spokesperson for the Scottish Greens. He has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, asking him to commission an in-depth review of how the law on sexual history evidence is applied, and whether it is doing enough to protect victims. The laws have not been reviewed in this way since 2006.

He has also lodged a parliamentary question asking what protections are in place to ensure victims are not further harmed by the public exposure of their sexual history.

John said:

“Victims of rape and other sex crimes are too often re-victimised by the ordeal of the investigation and trial. They should not suffer having their sexual history pulled apart in court in an attempt to discredit them – and, in theory, we have laws to prevent that.

“However, women going through the system regularly report being asked intimate questions about their sexual history. A Scottish Government data-gathering exercise found that in the first three months of 2016, there were 57 applications to introduce complainants’ sexual history in court, and judges refused only 9 of them.

“It has been 10 years since the last review of how our laws on sexual history evidence are working. We don’t know how many rape victims are being traumatised by unnecessary questioning, or how many cases are being prejudiced by character assassination – but the experience of charities like Rape Crisis Scotland suggests it’s too many.

“That’s why I’m asking for a detailed evaluation of how this law is operating in practice. If that study shows it doesn’t effectively protecting victims, the urgency of a new, stricter law that does will be undeniable.”

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: https://youtu.be/fRa0H7z4w94?t=1241