MS Awareness Week 2017

John spoke yesterday (26/04/17) in George Adam’s member’s debate on MS Awareness Week 2017, you can read the text of his speech and watch it below:

I congratulate George Adam on a number of things: on the motion; on his role in the cross-party group on MS, which works effectively with the assistance of the MS Society; on his promotion of the positive aspects of dealing with the pernicious thing that is MS; and on his generally positive outlook, which I imagine is an essential characteristic of the St Mirren fan. I wish him—if not his team—very well.

The motion

“welcomes this opportunity to put … MS … on the agenda”.

To many people in the chamber, and to about 11,000 people in Scotland, their carers and loved ones, MS is never off the agenda. I had forgotten that we did not have a debate last year, because such debates seem to have been a regular feature, but I have been reflecting on what might have happened to people in the past year, given the undulating nature of the condition, which George described very well.

Presiding Officer, if I were able to use a prop, I would hold up a newspaper with the headline:

“MS sufferer slams ‘awful’ benefits chiefs who axed her Motability car in favour of £65,000 taxis”.

There is no doubt that the welfare reform that the cruel and heartless Tory Government at Westminster has foisted on us has had an impact on everyone, not least the woman in the article, whose car was one of the 800 Motability cars that are being taken away every week. The decision was reflected on, and the same Government department ruled that the woman qualified for help to get to her work, so the Government is now paying £19,000 a year for taxis. That is the economics of the madhouse. The decision is deeply offensive to the woman in question, and it shows a heartlessness that we really do not want to see.

What we want to see, of course, is independence and mobility. There are many practical issues in that regard, with which I deal regularly, as I am sure that other members do. I was keen to support the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers case against driver-only operation and the loss of the safety-critical train guard, particularly when I heard that wheelchair-bound people are often carried beyond their stop because there is no assistance for them. The problem was eloquently explained to me by Gale Falconer, a friend in the Highlands who is an MS sufferer. In a meeting, she described the frustrations of travel, the planning that needs to go into it and the advice and support that are needed.

I am also dealing with someone with mobility issues in relation to the repeated failure of a lift at a ferry terminal. If we want to take a collaborative approach to the issue, we need to get such small things sorted. There are also challenges to do with bus travel, which are well known.

Although I have very limited time, I also want to talk about the challenges of recruiting specialists, be they neurologists or MS nurses. That has been touched on with regard to the situation in Lanarkshire. I am particularly concerned about the retention of specialist staff given the threat posed by Brexit.

There is a lot to be very positive about. I will not reiterate what was said in this afternoon’s carers debate, but there is a lot of common ground. Setting aside the partisan nature of some of the amendments that were lodged for that debate, there is a lot of recognition of the real benefit that carers provide.

The motion for this debate commends the charities, MS Society Scotland and the MS Trust, and I know about the good work that is happening across my area. In particular, I am aware of some innovative work in Moray. In fairly recent times I have visited MS therapy centres in Inverness, Kirkwall, Oban, Lochgilphead and Portree. There is much to be positive about and there are a lot of challenges, but people who suffer from MS need to know that the people in the chamber give them their unqualified support.

Once again, I thank George Adam for lodging the motion.

John Finnie Congratulates Roots and Shoots on Award

John Finnie MSP has congratulated Badenoch and Strathspey based Roots and Shoots on being awarded the Highland Council’s Play Improvement Group’s annual Highland Play Award.

Roots and Shoots is a not for profit social enterprise launched in May 2016 with the aim of increasing outdoor play opportunities for all in Badenoch and Strathspey and the Cairngorms.

John said:

“I would like to congratulate Roots and Shoots on winning the Highland Play Award.

“Encouraging children and families to play outdoors is of vital importance to childhood development and this award recognises the organisations that have done the most to promote play in their region.

“I very much welcome the work Highland Council’s Play Improvement Group does to promote self-directed free play with daily access to the outdoors

“Roots and Shoots is a fine example of a not for profit social enterprise which works for the benefit of its local community by aiming to increase outdoor play opportunities for all in Badenoch, Strathspey, and the Cairngorms.

“Their aim of supporting disadvantaged families in Badenoch and Strathspey to play outdoor is admirable and I wish them great success in their work in the future.”

John’s Speech in New Independence Referendum Debate

The Scottish Parliament will today complete the debate on the proposal to push for a section 30 order for a new independence referendum. The debate was scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, the 21st and 22nd respectively. Due to the terror attack in Westminster, the debate last Wednesday was halted and will take place today (28th March).

John spoke during the open session of the debate on the Tuesday, you can read or watch his speech below.

 

John Finnie:

I have not heard anyone say anything other than that Scotland finds itself in a significantly changed position. We, on these benches, because of that significant and material change to which the First Minister alluded, believe that the Scottish Government has an unquestionable mandate to take the course of action that it has taken. Likewise, the Scottish Green Party has an unquestionable mandate to pursue the section 30 order on the basis of a conference decision.

People have made many particular points at times, but nothing stands still and we have moved forward considerably. In fairness to Ruth Davidson, she referred to Brexit as “a major challenge” to our country. It is unfortunate that the single market options have been ruled out; it is also extremely unfortunate that there was not a willingness to engage in negotiations.

A number of people have talked about the need to consider the implications of Brexit, and that is what I will do in the brief time that I have. Members might well think that the most appropriate person to consult on the implications of Brexit would be the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and might take some reassurance from the fact that he said:

“I do my job on the basis of facts”.

We know that the PM has repeatedly insisted that leaving the EU with no trade deal is better than a bad deal. However, Mr Davis has admitted that leaving the EU without a deal will lead to new tariffs and other barriers to trade. Although he said that the UK Government

“could not quantify the outcome”,

he acknowledged that there would be significant implications if that were to happen.

I will list some of those implications: the loss of financial passporting, the loss of the EU open skies agreement and the possibility of the reintroduction of border checks between the north and the Republic of Ireland. Mr Davis also acknowledged that leaving the customs union could cause delays at customs—that may be the case at the moment, but the situation would be exacerbated—and it would probably cost UK tourists access to free health insurance cards.

When asked whether the Tory Government had made an assessment of the economic impact of all the changes, he said that that

“is not possible to calculate.”

He added:

“I cannot quantify it for you in detail … I may well … do so in about a year’s time”

and insisted:

“You do not have to have a piece of paper with a number on it to have an economic assessment.”

That is genuine frontier gibberish, as far as I am concerned.

We know from a leaked Treasury forecast last year, when George Osborne was chancellor, that crashing out of the EU on World Trade Organization terms could cost the UK 7.5 per cent in lost GDP growth by 2030.

The important issue for me is what all this means for our EU citizen friends and neighbours who are in the UK. The loss of freedom of movement would not be one way, and freedom of movement is key to the Scottish Green Party’s internationalist philosophy. Conversely, using those friends and neighbours as crude bargaining chips fits entirely with the Tory UK Government’s calculated pandering to xenophobes and, lest we forget, with the Labour Party and its now infamous immigration control mugs. The reality is that the UK has taken an unfortunate lurch to the right. Freedom of movement is a fundamental, non-negotiable foundation stone of the kind of Scotland that we want to see.

The implications have already started to show in higher education. Who will apply to university if they are unsure whether they will be permitted to stay, or indeed whether they will be welcome? Applications are down. That is unfortunate, because last year, when I represented the independent group on a joint team that was looking at post-study visas, there was cross-party consensus. Indeed, Liz Smith from the Conservatives was extremely helpful in making representations at UK level. It is unfortunate that that is not where we are now.

John Scott (intervention):

Does Mr Finnie think that the First Minister’s priority is still education?

John Finnie:

It is for the First Minister to say what her priorities are.

The implications for research funding are already becoming a reality, as is the loss of valuable researchers. As Times Higher Education reported yesterday, under the headline,

“Brexit: ‘fantastic’ UK researchers head for Canada”,

the University of Waterloo is recruiting British academics who are worried about their future and their families. It is perhaps not ironic, given that the university is located in Ontario, close to the American border, that it has experienced a similar flow of United States academics looking to move since Donald Trump’s election.

There are broader implications for research into climate change and disease. Science is global, and many of the world-leading programmes in which the UK is currently involved cannot be scaled down to national level. In such matters there should always be the maximum international co-operation.

Why do we support the timeframe that the First Minister outlined? The Scottish Green Party is deeply concerned that the decision about Scotland’s future and that of our EU citizens should take place before those citizens are disenfranchised—that important point is catered for in our amendment. I hope that our EU nationals all hang around to vote for a positive future, but we know that EU nationals are already leaving. I know of a Polish gentleman who manages a restaurant in Inverness; he is learning German, because he sees his future in that country. He is not going to hang around.

We have a growing ageing population. That is something to celebrate, as members said. The Highlands need to import people, and the Scottish Greens warmly welcome the First Minister’s invitation to people to come and live in Scotland. We know that people who have come are net contributors—although I do not view such things in the light of cold economics. They have certainly enriched our country.

The EU was set up with laudable aims and it would be disappointing if the United Kingdom played a part in its fragmentation.

The timeframe is right, and the details of negotiations will be known. Scotland’s EU citizens can have their say, and the people of Scotland are sovereign, as Bruce Crawford said. There must be an informed choice about two futures. One of those is riddled with uncertainty, with the only guarantee being that the UK’s elites—the bankers, the generals and the public schoolboys—will continue to benefit from the growing inequality that is an essential part of the UK’s DNA. The alternative is a chance to make our own choices—yes, in uncharted waters—and to work together to make social and environmental justice the foundation stones of our future, with a just and welcoming Scotland taking its place among the countless other small independent nations of the world.

UN Shamefully Capitulates on Report about Apartheid Israel

Last week the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, published a report, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.”

The report had been commissioned from two academics; Virginia Tilley, Professor of Political Science at Southern Illinois University and Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and one-time UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine (2008-2014).

The report concludes, “the weight of evidence supports beyond a reasonable doubt the proposition that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity.”

Last week, I had the privilege of chairing a well-attended meeting in Edinburgh, addressed by Richard Falk when he spoke about the report, recent events and his book, “Palestine’s Horizon, Toward a Just Peace.”

In common with other ‘Palestinian’ events in recent weeks, the venue had to be changed at the last minute following complaints that it was ‘controversial’.

Whilst it might reasonably have been expected that the report would prompt the UN to consider how to respond to the findings, sadly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ response was to asked the his organisation’s own Commission to remove their report from the UN website. The report is no longer on UN sites but can be found here: https://electronicintifada.net/…/un_apartheid_report_15_mar…

Why might this be? Well, Reuters reported, “Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman likened the report to a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic and described it as “despicable and a blatant lie.” Meanwhile, the United States, Israel’s main ally, said it was “outraged” by the report.

As ever Israel plays the man not the ball. Richard Falk is an American Jew, but, first and foremost he is man who evidences his work and seeks a just peace.

Sadly, such blatant censorship is being mirrored by a growing intolerance of freedom of speech in Scotland too.

As someone who has long promoted equalities, and campaigns for a rights-based approach to everything, I am particularly offended by the accusation that criticism of the state of Israel equates to anti-Semitism.

Unlike the UN, and just like those who opposed apartheid South Africa before, Scottish critics of the apartheid regime in Israel will not be bullied into silence.

SHIP TO SHIP TO BE DEBATED IN SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

John joined campaigners from Cromarty Rising at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee today (16/03/2017) calling for proposals for ship to ship oil transfer in the Cromarty Firth to be thrown out.

John, who has been campaigning against ship to ship oil transfers for some time was delighted to speak in support of the petition.

The Public Petition’s Committee have agreed to write to the Scottish Government and relevant stakeholders seeking their views on the petition and will return to the issue in a future session.

John has submitted a parliamentary motion on the issue, which will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday (22/03/2017).

John said:

“I was pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the Public Petitions Committee’s session on Cromarty Rising’s ship to ship petition. The petitioners should be commended for the articulate case they made before the committee. The committee have agreed to write to the Scottish Government, and relevant stakeholders and I will be interested in hearing what they have to say on the matter when the issue returns to the committee in due course.

“If ship to ship oil transfers are allowed to go ahead in the Cromarty Firth the consequences for marine life, including the iconic pod of bottlenose dolphins, could be catastrophic.

“The overwhelming majority of communities in the area, who would be in the front line of any oil spill, are opposed to ship to ship oil transfers, as are thousands across the country as the 103,000 signatures on Cromarty Rising’s petition demonstrates.

“The potential impact on the tourism sector, so important to the local economy, cannot be overstated. I am therefore glad that my motion has achieved cross party support, and I look forward to leading a debate on ship to ship oil transfers in the parliament next week.”

John’s Speech on Inclusive Tourism

Yesterday John spoke in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on Inclusive Tourism; you can read John’s speech below.

John Finnie:

“I align myself with almost all of Mr Gray’s comments—with the exception of what he said about his constituency being the finest. I align myself with what he said about the work of Leuchie house—from which Ms Mairi O’Keefe is, I think, with us in the gallery. I have a constituent—probably at least one—who is eternally grateful for the support that is given there.

It is very good that we talk about disabilities. I am conscious that the word “mainstreaming” is used a lot. I commend the mainstreaming approach and do not think that such things are about a named individual or a department: we are all responsible.

That does not mean that even new builds or new initiatives are without their challenges. It is important that technologies, procedures, standards all round and our expectations improve. We have heard about practices from a number of colleagues. I hope that, in years to come, we will not hear that people who live on the outside of a city have never been in the city centre, or that people have never seen the countryside. Equality impact assessments will underpin that, but challenges remain in that respect. Equality impact assessments are routinely done, but are, sadly, often box-ticking exercises. I favour a rights-based approach to how we do all business, including tourism. The point of reference on this occasion is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 9 of that convention requires of countries

“the identification and elimination of obstacles”.

Health and safety and risk assessment have an important role in doing that. As we have heard, not all barriers are physical. Many barriers, in particular in respect of mental health, are attitudinal.

Article 9 goes on to say that it should be ensured that persons with disabilities can access their environment. In that regard, transport is terribly important. Regardless of whether we are able-bodied, if a lift at a ferry terminal is not working, if there are limitations to bus travel or if taxi travel proves to be challenging, it affects us all, although the effects are compounded for those with disabilities.

Another issue is inspection, repair and replacement regimes. There is danger in that, in recent years, the fabric of many of our communities has not been maintained. The public facilities and services that we all share are also important resources for tourists. At the weekend, the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland expressed concerns to me about street furniture and road signage not being removed. We need to be alert to even the mundane things that can affect people.

The benefit of communications technology in information sharing has been mentioned. I align myself with Tavish Scott’s comments. It is all very well for members sitting here in the chamber, where we can get a 4G signal, but that is not the case everywhere. We also need more multilingual signage and we need to ensure that people with hearing and visual impairments are catered for.

There is good news. The national collections provide free access to the public. Free access is positive—it allows participation of people who are on low incomes, among whom women, disabled people and some ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented.

On social tourism, access to breaks that most of us take for granted has been mentioned. In the previous session, I was a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, which reported on loneliness and isolation. We went to the island of Islay in my constituency, and to Easterhouse, where there are real challenges. I commend the work that NHS Highland is doing, along with the Inverness Courier and Drakies primary school, to encourage people to mix intergenerationally. I am sure that similar work is taking place across the country.

A lot of good things are happening, and I know that the Scottish Government consultation on its “Draft Delivery Plan 2016-2020” picks up on the UNCPRD’s rights references. I will pick out a few of those references. Commitment 6 says:

“A new help guide aimed at boosting accessible design will be published”.

Design is everything.

There are challenges—indeed, we have heard some people talk about the challenges of retrofitting, so we need to get it right from the outset. That commitment was connected to the legacy for the 2016 year of innovation, architecture and design.

Commitment 7 is to provide

“A new help guide to assist tourism businesses”

with information technology, as well as social media, which is important.

Under commitment 10, we see that

“Creative Scotland is undertaking a wideranging review of equalities, diversity and inclusion in the arts, screen and creative industries.”

I hope that that can be reflected in public funding going to promotion of diversity in the arts. I would certainly make public financial support conditional on that.

A number of members have mentioned Euan’s Guide. Its great attraction is that, rather than politicians pontificating, Euan, who is helped by his sister, is writing as someone with lived experience of the issues. Euan, who is from Leith, has done commendable work. I hope that his workload is diminishing.

The VisitScotland initiative must be appreciated. Members have talked about the benefits of the concessionary bus scheme. That has been a tremendous boost, particularly in allowing social mobility for the older generation. The economic benefits are important, too. I must say that I am not as drawn to the economic benefits as I am to the social and health—physical and mental wellbeing—benefits. I understand that for someone who is making important decisions about whether to heat their home or put food on the table, the last thing on their mind will be whether to take a holiday, let alone anything fancier than a trip to the city centre. If we want to improve our communities, we must enable such schemes, because there is no doubt that all the problems are reflected in lower life expectancy.

I am going to keep on going until you tell me otherwise, Presiding Officer.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer: 

“Do not take it as a given—you have another half minute at the most.”

John Finnie MSP:

“Okey-dokey. Thank you.

The Scottish Greens will support Tavish Scott’s amendment tonight. The northern isles have geographic challenges, which does not mean that tourists should not go there. The challenges should be celebrated and tourism to the isles should be supported. Mr Scott said that it is an equity issue, and I agree.

Respitality is important. Carer centres have an important role to play in signposting people to services and assisting with benefits.

A lot of the issue is about structures and facilities, and a lot of it is about information. It is also about inclusion, so I commend the role of access panels in improving the lot not just of locals, but of visitors to their areas. Fundamentally, this is about changed attitudes, so I welcome improvements in that regard, although there is a way to go. However, I do not sense any complacency. We can have a more equitable future. As the cabinet secretary said, that will require shared endeavour.”

Occupational Segregation in the Highlands and Islands

Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie has welcomed the publication of the report, Occupational Segregation in the Highlands and Islands, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Green MSP Finnie, said:

 

“I welcome the publication of this important report, which coincided with International Women’s day. The research demonstrates that there is much work to be done if we are to end gender based inequality in the Highlands and Islands.

 

“I am particularly supportive of the recommendation for a region-wide strategic approach to the issue and I hope this can be brought forward as soon as possible.”

 

Full motion:

 

Motion Number: S5M-04536
Lodged By: John Finnie
Date Lodged: 09/03/2017

Title: Occupational Segregation in the Highlands and Islands

Motion Text:

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the report, Occupational Segregation in the Highlands and Islands, which was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise; notes that the research, which was carried out by Ekosgen, identified that occupational segregation is more pronounced in the Highlands and Islands than the rest of Scotland, impacting on individuals, employers and the economy; understands that the study highlighted that employment rates for men (82.8%) and women (75.3%) in the region exceed the Scottish average but that employment levels are higher among men compared to women, and that the difference is more marked than for Scotland as a whole; considers that the report, which was published to coincide with International Women’s Day, identified that, while occupational segregation impacts on both genders, it is more often women that experience the negative consequences, and that there is clear evidence of a gender pay gap in the Highlands and Islands, with men more likely to work in more senior well-paid positions and women more prevalent in less senior roles, and with the types of jobs often reflecting traditional views of what is “women’s work” and “men’s work”, and that these patterns persist across most sectors and are evident in subject choices across modern apprenticeships and further and higher education; believes that the report highlights a range of factors that contribute to this, including perpetuating stereotypes, workplace practices and cultures, working patterns and structural barriers such as availability of childcare, and that it states that, while there is a need to acknowledge local circumstances, there is a need for a region-wide strategic approach to address the issue, and considers that such a strategic approach should be brought forward as soon as possible in order to ensure that the same opportunities are available to all regardless of gender.