John Calls for End of Private Prisons

The Scottish Government must urgently review its private prison expenditure after the Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service, Colin McConnell, confirmed that inflation uplifts built into these contracts result in cuts to the overall prison budget, according to John the Scottish Greens Justice Spokesperson . Colin McConnell made the statement at Hoylrood’s Justice Committee this morning.

In written evidence provided to the committee, the Auditor General stated that the uplifts, “will require additional recurring savings of around £12 million a year by 2022-23.”

John said:

“Private profit should have no place in Scotland’s criminal justice system. It’s absolutely absurd that cuts must to be made in the public sector, in order to enrich Serco’s shareholders. The Justice Secretary must urgently review this wholly unsatisfactory arrangement. It’s time we stopped dishing out huge amounts of public money to predatory companies who run our public service into the ground.”

Equal Protection Passes

Parliament takes historic and courageous step

MSPs have taken the historic decision to back John’s Equal Protection Bill yesterday evening, meaning that children in Scotland will soon be given the same legal protection from assault that adults currently enjoy.

After the debate John said:

“I am absolutely delighted that the Scottish Parliament has taken this historic and courageous step. The leadership shown by MSPs will send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting, and that our children deserve at least the same legal protections that adults enjoy.

“Physical punishment has no place in 21st century Scotland. The international evidence tells us that it can have serious impacts on children, and that it is not effective. As I have progressed this campaign over the last three years, it has become clear just how many people believed that striking a child was already outlawed.

“I am extremely proud to have brought forward the legislation that will enhance children’s rights in Scotland and believe that today we have taken a huge step toward making Scotland the best country in the world for children to grow up in.”

John’s Member’s ll is a chance for MSPs to show leadership

The Scottish Parliament will have the chance to show courageous leadership this evening when it votes on a bill to give children the same legal protection from assault that adults currently enjoy, according to John.

John is the member in charge of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, which will face its final vote in parliament tonight (3 Oct).

By passing this Bill, Scotland will come into line with international best practice, joining 57 other countries who already prohibit the physical punishment of children.

John said:

“This evening the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to show courageous leadership by putting in place vital legal protections for Scotland’s children. It is staggering that our smallest and most vulnerable citizens are the only people who do not currently have this protection, and now is the time to rectify that. Physical punishment has no place in 21st century Scotland. The international evidence tells us that it can have serious adverse impacts on children, and that it is not an effective. It is time for parliament to put an end to it tonight.”

John Condemns Disreputable Serco Ferry Contract

The Islands Minister has been accused of ripping up a fair work agreement signed by the Scottish Government less than a year ago after he named Serco as the preferred bidder for a lifeline ferry contract.

John, the Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson challenged Mr Wheelhouse in parliament this afternoon (24 Sep), after the Scottish Government named the outsourcing giant as its choice to run the Northern Isles Ferry Services for the next eight years.

John described the Scottish Government’s association with the “disreputable” company – who also run HMP Kilmarnock and the Caledonian Sleeper – and has a shocking industrial relations history as “disgraceful”.

Commenting John said:

“The Scottish Government’s disgraceful decision to place the lifeline Northern Isles Ferry Services contract back into the hands of the disreputable Serco puts private profit before island communities. The Islands Minister has turned his back on the workers who deliver these vital services, in favour of a private company that wants to asset strip our public services. Serco’s industrial relations record is abysmal, and by offering them yet another public contract, the Scottish Government has effectively ripped up its commitment to fair work.”

Northern Isles Ferries

As you’ll know I do frequent columns for local papers across the Highlands and Islands. During the summer I submitted this article for one such column, but its publication was declined.

The ferries linking Orkney to the rest of Scotland are unquestionably lifeline services. They connect the island to the rest of the country and are relied upon by huge numbers of people. It is therefore in everyone’s interest that the services be run publicly, in the interests of the people they serve.

Everyone’s interest except perhaps the bosses of Serco, the company which currently has the contract to operate the ferries. The vessels are owned by the Scottish Government, but the operation is outsourced to Serco, who are all too pleased to retain the profits from the service.

This is a company which has a track record of making profit from a range of government contracts while providing services which rank anywhere from shabby to inhumane. In Glasgow the company’s policies have resulted in hundreds of asylum seekers being threatened with homelessness and destitution as they carry out lock change evictions throughout the city.

The company has also had a long running dispute with members of the RMT union over conditions for staff on the Caledonian Sleeper service, which has been plagued with issues since Serco took control of the franchise.

And on top of all that a Serco subsidiary was recently fined £22.9m following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for understating the profitability of its business in returns to the Ministry of Justice a number of years ago.

This is a company with a track record of callousness, incompetence and deceit. It is clearly a firm that the Scottish Government should have nothing to do with. Public services should be run in the interests of the public, not private profit especially when dealing with a company as morally bankrupt as Serco.

The RMT, whose members are on the frontline of operating the ferries on a daily basis, have long since campaigned for the service to be taken into public ownership and I’m proud to stand with them.

Later this month the Scottish Government will announce whether the contract will be transferred to the publicly owned Calmac or remain with Serco. If the contract isn’t returned to public hands then it will be very difficult to trust the Scottish Government if they make promises on prioritising vital public services. The party’s commitment to this course of action is already questionable, when last year then Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP missed the chance to award the contract to Calmac.

This level of prevarication from the Government is unacceptable on such a vital issue. They are either committed to ensuring these services are run in the public interest or they aren’t, and the uncertainty is not in the interests of the people of our Northern Isles.

The issue goes beyond the islands and cuts straight to the heart of how we as a nation intend to address the climate emergency. There is a very limited window in which we can develop a coherent, effective response to ongoing ecological collapse and a radical re-imagining of the role of public transport at all levels must be central.

Transit, of goods as well as people, is a key source of emissions but private interests have generally shown little enthusiasm for investing the time and money needed to change that situation if it might make even the slightest dent in their profit margins.

We need, and deserve, a transport system, which is reliable and affordable. People in Orkney should be assured not only that the lifeline services they rely on will be run for them, but also that any profits will be reinvested back into making sure the ferries are sustainable and able to improve where necessary.

That simply can’t happen until the service is taken back into public ownership. Serco aren’t motivated by ensuring the ferries continue to run, they’re motivated solely by profit. While that’s the case Orcadians will always come second to the company’s ‘bottom line’. Throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK Serco have shown a willingness to abandon morality in the pursuit of money. Taking the contract into public ownership isn’t just the prudent thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do. These ferries are for you. They should also belong to you.

John Seeks Review of use of Criminal Immunity in Wake of Allan Marshall Case

In the wake of scathing criticism by Sheriff Liddle, who presided in the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the death of Allan Marshall in Saughton Prison, as Scottish Greens justice spokesperson John  as asked the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, to clarify the use of criminal immunity in Scotland.

Prison officers in that FAI were granted criminal immunity by the Crown.

In his letter, John Finnie is seeking information about the use of criminal immunity, how its effectiveness is gauged and what plans, if any, the Crown has to review the process.

“The public rightly want to understand the circumstances whereby a death results and individuals are given immunity from any possible criminal act.

“Sheriff Liddle was damming in his comments, clearly suggesting that, notwithstanding criminal immunity being granted, the Inquiry did not hear the truth about the death.

“We can all learn lessons, and that includes the Crown, and I hope to receive a comprehensive reply from the Lord Advocate hearing that he is reviewing the use of criminal immunity. If he is not, the Scottish Greens will formally call for such a review.”

Public ownership is at the heart of our Scottish Green New Deal

The closure of Ravenscraig, the coal mines, the collapse of silicone glen, the fight for the shipyards, we’ve seen in Scotland what happens when we don’t build a new future for people.
 
Taking a long-term view to ensure people’s future is what the Scottish Green New Deal (GND), which we launched this week, is all about.
 
As I reflect on a career as a police officer and an elected representative since 2007, it seems a long-term view is needed more than ever.
 
When the Scottish Greens pushed for governments to recognise the climate emergency, we were initially told that ‘turning off the tap’ of oil and gas would leave a workforce on the scrapheap. What nonsense. No one is talking about ‘turning off the tap’. What the Greens are proposing is a just transition that looks after all of our future.
 
The reliance on oil and gas in the North East was exposed after the oil price crash of 2014. Some managed to get jobs in other industries, others were not so lucky. That should have been a warning, a glimpse into a future which relies on non-renewable resources.
 
Those working in oil and gas are not the problem. The climate emergency is the problem. That’s why we owe it those people to secure new low-carbon jobs for them now, not wait until the limited resources that are damaging our planet runs out. That really would be leaving them on the scrapheap.
 
But a just transition can’t just be about diverting huge resources from one industry into another. The UN has given us just a decade to turn our economy around to keep global warming down to a safe level. If we are going to move at the speed and scale required, we need to align the Scottish Government’s resources and the public sector behind the effort.
 
That’s why the heart of the Scottish Green New Deal is about public ownership and unionised labour.
 
Successive Tory and Labour governments at Westminster have eroded and sold off our public sector, and the SNP has lacked the political will to reclaim it, but if we are to build a fair and sustainable Scotland quickly, we need the state to act.
 
The Scottish Government did declare a climate emergency, but its funding, channelled through all the competing public agencies, has yet to align behind the idea.
 
We can’t keep pursuing a failed economics which throws money and tax breaks at big business and expects it to look after people.
 
Publicly owned banks, energy companies and other institutions could play a big and direct role in building a green economy.
 
And yes, eventually that means independence for Scotland. To deliver a comprehensive Scottish GND we would need access to reserved powers over monetary and energy powers. It’s why we campaign for independence.
 
But the truth is the climate emergency won’t wait for independence. It is an emergency and requires an emergency response. That’s why our initial document this week focuses on what the Scottish Government could do now.
 
Using the powers we have, we could set Scotland on a very different path to the UK. Other European countries that kept their key industries in public hands are now using these to take on the climate challenge while retaining and expanding industrial jobs.
 
Ironically, some of those publicly-owned companies now provide services in Scotland. With similar commitment to public ownership, the Scottish Government could play a direct role in tackling the climate emergency and securing sustainable jobs for the future.
 
It has been good to see commitment from the Scottish Government for a publicly-owned national bank and energy company. These need to be brought forward and added to.
Imagine, for example, an integrated bus and rail network that would serve communities rather than private shareholders? This would allow us to Invest in the strategic growth and decarbonisation of Scotland’s railway network.
 
Imagine if the entire public sector estate used its huge procurement power to support low carbon industry and renewable energy, with a focus on projects and companies that are investing in Scottish jobs and the Scottish supply line.
Imagine if every part of Scotland had a localised green industrial strategy which could align public agencies and businesses behind a single goal, securing a sustainable future.
 
After all, this is about building a future for our people and their children. Yes, it is radical, but the situation we are in demands a radical response.
 
And the Scottish Greens are not alone. Across Europe progressive politicians and organisations are calling for Green New Deals. With all the natural resources and a skilled workforce that Scotland has, we have an opportunity to lead the way. I hope we have the courage to grasp it.
 
*First published in The National on 30th August 2019