John Announced as Beaver Species Champion

John Finnie was announced this week as the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s new champion for the Eurasian beaver and as first order of business welcomed the new legal protections for the species, despite Tory attempts to block progress.

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee this week agreed to add the beaver to a list of European protected species, which will mean they can only be culled under licence and after other management steps have failed.

John said the decision to give legal protection was ‘vital’ and blasted the Tories for seeking to continue a free-for-all on indiscriminate culls.

Commenting further John said:

“The beaver is a keystone species because of the multiple benefits it can have on biodiversity and Scotland has already benefited from their reintroduction – but sadly they have been targeted for indiscriminate killing, including of pregnant mums and their young.

“That’s why Greens have pushed consistently for these vital legal protections – but the Tories should hang their heads in shame for trying to roll back the clock instead of boosting Scotland’s precious biodiversity.”

John Backs Climate Strikers Across Highlands and Islands

John has written to each local authority in the Highlands and Islands urging them to back young people who choose to strike from school to highlight the urgent need for climate action.

An estimated 15,000 people took part in a wave of climate strikes across the UK in February, inspired by 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Now, John has written to education bosses at local authorities urging them to support – and not to punish – young people ahead of the planned global strike on 15 March 2019.

Citing Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and its objective of young people becoming ‘responsible citizens’ and the First Minister’s call for the voices of young people to be heard, John has implored councils to understand the struggle faced by young people who will grow up in a world gripped by total climate breakdown unless transformative action is taken immediately.

John said:

“The climate crisis – and how we all respond to it – will now unavoidably define the lives of young people at school in Scotland today. Many are, completely rationally, fearful for their futures and those of young people around the world. It’s clear why they feel compelled to speak out and urge stronger action from governments and corporations who have not just failed to tackle this crisis but who have caused it.

“Local councils should support young people who chose to strike for the climate – after all, they epitomise what it means to be responsible citizens. They should certainly ensure that there is no threat of any form of punishment.”

 

John at a recent Climate Strike outside Lochaber High

Park The Hysteria

(Originally Published in the Herald 16th February 2019)

 

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted for the £42.5billion Scottish Budget thanks to a deal between the Scottish Greens and the SNP. In previous years Greens have focused on securing funding for vital local services and this year we went much further.

 

We secured a package of measures that will reform how local government is funded, making taxes fairer and giving public sector workers and the services we all rely on security and stability. Part of that package was government support for my amendment to the Transport Bill, which aims to give local councils the power to design, consult upon and introduce a workplace parking levy if they choose.

 

This modest measure has attracted the combined fury of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, aligned together behind a hysterical tabloid campaign that has been misleading at best. To those outside the Holyrood bubble, the cause of the current apoplexy must be baffling.

 

As the Herald’s political editor Tom Gordon observed in these pages last week: “Local governments across Europe raise and collect numerous taxes. It is the norm. Two decades on, Holyrood should surely be more adult about tax, and let councils get on with it.”

 

My proposal is based on powers that local councils in England have had for 18 years. It was first proposed by the UK Labour government but removed by the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive when they caved in to pressure from the business lobby. It has been implemented by a Labour-run council in England, and Labour councillors in Edinburgh have called for it. Lib Dem MSPs used to support devolving such power but are now inexplicably opposed to it.

 

The Tories’ knee-jerk reaction was predictable but for Labour and the Lib Dems to perform such a rapid hand-brake turn reeks of opportunism. They are happy to play along by talking about “The levy proposed by the SNP and the Greens…” when there is no proposed levy.

 

Why would political parties who claim to be concerned about air pollution, climate change and local democracy rage against such a win-win policy? Could it be that they actually distrust localism?

 

The Scottish Greens believe in local decision-making. We want to rebuild local democracy in Scotland so that communities have more control to address the issues that affect them, just like local government in most other European countries. Powers to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy where appropriate – and powers to introduce a tourist tax, which we also secured as part of the Budget negotiations – are small steps towards this vision. Once introduced, however, it’s not for MSPs in Holyrood to develop such schemes. That is the job of Local Government, who understand and are able to engage with their communities, and are able to tailor policy so that it has the impact it needs to have.

 

Is it any wonder that public trust in politicians generally is so low, when some parties so readily misrepresent and exaggerate? And all to cover their own unwillingness to engage constructively in a parliament of minorities, where every day presents an opportunity to help our communities. Mind you, public trust in local councillors is greater than for members of parliament, so perhaps it’s a case of jealousy from certain MSPs that explains their irrational desire to hoard powers centrally.

 

As for the actual benefits of a parking levy, should a local council decide it’s an option they wish to pursue, let’s remember the public health crisis we face in towns and cities across Scotland.

 

A series of reports have outlined the impact of traffic fumes – including detrimental effects on teenage mental health, a huge reduction in intelligence among children growing up in polluted areas, and a record number of asthma deaths. *  On top of that, road congestion costs the UK economy nearly £8 billion a year.

 

In Nottingham, the decision to levy a charge on large employers came about after transport officers found that congestion was a significant problem in the city during peak commuter times. The charge of £400 per year per space is passed on to half of the car drivers affected. There are exemptions for emergency service workers and Blue Badge holders, and an extensive business support package.

 

The council has ensured alternatives such as car clubs and bike hire, travel planning support, and integrated ticketing for public transport. It has resulted in a big shift toward public transport, walking and cycling. Climate change emissions are down by a third. Revenue of over £50million has been raised and reinvested in the city’s transport infrastructure.

 

Campaigners and academics this week wrote to all five Scottish political leaders in frustration at some parties’ attempts to mislead and spread falsehoods about an idea that has been shown to deliver benefits to public health, the environment and the economy. Organisations such as WWF and the Confederation of Passenger Transport see the opportunity presented by my amendment. I look forward to delivering a power local government in Scotland should have had long ago. It will bring us a step closer to a transport system fit for the future.

We Must Prioritise Better Buses

This article was first published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.

You may have heard of a report recently produced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston.

The report has been widely cited as it takes an in depth look at the pernicious social security policies of the UK Government, describing the Tories flagship policy change, Universal Credit, as “Universal Discredit”. Professor Alston also highlighted the hugely gendered nature of the UK Government’s atrocious programme of social security cuts commenting that it looked like it had been designed by, “a group of misogynists in a room.”

One aspect of the report, which has not had a great deal of coverage so far relates to bus services.

The report states, “Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, and it is one of the reasons I started my Better Buses campaign, which aims to capture the experience of bus users across the country.

Bus patronage has been falling year on year, and while the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill does propose some initiatives in relation to bus services, it does not go anywhere near far enough, and will do nothing to offer communities, particularly those is rural areas, the good quality services that they need.

Local Councils should be empowered to provide bus services that serve the needs of our diverse communities, many of which are currently cut off from services, with commercial operators deeming them unviable.

The Scottish Government does provide some funding to support the provision of services, but it announced a cut of £7 million to this support in its draft budget.

While the current system of bus operation is complex and frustrating, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government is neither providing the necessary financial support, nor suggesting a new model to support communities.

Around a third of people do not have access to a private car, yet the Scottish Government’s transport policies are almost exclusively focused on this mode of transport. Government policies should focus on the needs of everyone in our communities, not only those who have a car.

We need to tackle the issues of congestion, air pollution, and climate change urgently.

Academy Street in Inverness city centre is among Scotland’s most polluted streets, and air pollution is responsible for around 2500 deaths in Scotland each year. It is therefore vital that we encourage folk to leave their cars at home, but we can only achieve this if we make the alternatives more attractive.

If we are going to do this the Scottish Government needs to prioritise bus services, which are reasonably priced, clean, and reliable.

Scottish Government Must Take Control of ScotRail Shambles

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to take control of the ScotRail shambles, in the Scottish Parliament today (8 Jan 2019).

Mr Finnie once again highlighted the poor service commuters in the Highlands, and across the country, have been receiving in recent months, asking the Cabinet Secretary for Transport what level of mismanagement is required from Abellio before Ministers will take control of the situation.

John Finnie said:

“Passengers have been failed time and again by ScotRail over recent months, with overcrowded, understaffed, delayed, or cancelled services becoming the norm for many passengers. Abellio has been given multiple chances to improve, and it is quite clear that they are providing a substandard service. It cannot be right that they can continue to fail, and face no serious repercussions.

“I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary finally hinted today that ending the franchise early was an option he would consider. Given Abellio’s pitiful performance, this cannot come soon enough.”

Support over the Christmas

As John’s office will be closed over the Christmas Period (21st Dec- 6th Jan) you can find a list of numbers if you need any support or help over this period below.

Out-of-hours Emergency Contacts

Highland Council

  • Health and Social Care – 0845 601 4813
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01349 886690
  • Housing and Homelessness – 01349 886691

Argyll & Bute

  • Social Work Services – 01631 566491 or 01631 569712
  • Homelessness – 0345 056 5457
  • Housing Repairs – 0800 028 2755
  • Local Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 0800 373 635

Moray Council

  • All Emergencies – 03457 565656

Orkney Islands Council 

  • Health and Social Care – 01856 888000
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01856 876338
  • Housing – 01856 873430
  • Homelessness – 07921582962

Shetland Islands Council

  • Social Work Services, including homelessness and emergency housing – Duty Social Worker – 01595 695611
  • Roads, Flooding and Street Lighting – 01595 744866
  • Housing – 01595 693972

Western Isles Council

  • All out of hours services for CNES and HHP are delivered through Faire Community Alarm Service – 01851 701702

Other Numbers

  • BEAR Scotland – 0800 587 1107
  • NHS 24 – Call free on 111 if you are ill and it can’t wait until your regular NHS service reopens
  • Police Scotland – 101 (for all services) 999 (for all emergencies)
  • Scottish Fire and Rescue Service – 01463 240999 (24 hours) 999 (for emergencies)
  • Scottish Water –  0800 0778 778 (24 hours)
  • Samaritans – 116 123
  • Scottish Women’s Aid – 0800 027 1234
  • Alcoholics Anonymous – 0800 9177 650
  • Gambler’s Anonymous – 0370 050 8881
  • Rape Crisis Scotland – 08088 01 03 02
  • Mikeysline – Text to Talk – 07779 303 303

Green MSP Calls for ScotRail Franchise to be Ended

Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to end the current ScotRail franchise as chaos continues across the rail network.

Mr Finnie, The Greens’ Transport spokesperson, made the call in parliament this afternoon (18 Dec 2018). He highlighted the Scottish Government’s ambition to take control of Network Rail, which is currently controlled by the UK Government. Greens support the devolution of Network Rail, and believe that both track and train operations should be run by a public sector operator.

John Finnie MSP said:

“ScotRail’s performance has gone from bad to worse in recent months, and the Scottish Government’s response has been wholly inadequate. Simply ordering review after review, while ScotRail’s performance continues to get worse is not good enough.

“Greens support the Scottish Government’s ambition to see Network Rail devolved. However, there seems little point in seeking control of one part of the rail operation, while franchising out another. The Transport Secretary must bring to an end Abellio’s disastrous reign and put in place a public sector operator to run Scotland’s railways exclusively in the public interest, at the earliest opportunity.”