John’s speech against welfare conditions and sanctions

2016-11-02-john-finnie-debatingJohn spoke about on welfare conditionality yesterday evening, in a Member’s Business debate brought by SNP MSP, and Convenor of the Parliament’s Social Security Committee, Sandra White. Ms White’s motion read:

Motion S5M-01360: Sandra White, Glasgow Kelvin, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 09/09/2016
Welfare Conditionality Study

That the Parliament notes with concern the first wave findings of the welfare conditionality study that was carried out by researchers from several leading universities, including the University of Glasgow and was presented to MSPs on 7 September 2016; understands that it found universally-negative experiences of conditionality, which it reported as creating both “widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment” among service users and leading some people to turn to crime in order to survive because of the sanctions that they faced; recognises the report’s conclusion that the common thread linking stories of successful transition to work was the availability of individual support rather than the threat of sanctions; notes that the report includes what it considers to be deeply disturbing service users’ accounts of the conditionality; understands that some described the system as “intimidating, dehumanising and disempowering”; congratulates the University of Glasgow and the other researchers on what it considers to be its important work, and looks forward to the next wave of findings being published.

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 join others in congratulating Sandra White on bringing the debate to the chamber and in applauding and thanking the researchers for their work. It was my intention to say that we have all heard of or dealt with cases involving the devastating and harrowing impact that sanctions can have, but perhaps Mr Tomkins and his colleagues have not or, if they have heard, they have not listened, which would be more worrying.

The effect of removing people’s only means of support has a mental and physical health impact on them and their families but, unfortunately, the situation is even worse when we consider what jobseekers are being asked to do and how likely that is to improve their chances of finding employment. Around 65 per cent of participants leave the work programme without having gained and stayed in a job for at least six months. The figure is considerably higher for participants with health conditions or disabilities, around 85 per cent of whom have not entered and stayed in employment for at least three months. For those who are considered furthest from employment, the figure is as high as 94 per cent.

The report gives clear reasons why that might be the case. Claimants are asked to apply for jobs regardless of whether they are appropriate. The study’s interim findings show that people are being forced to apply for jobs that they tell Jobcentre Plus and employment programme providers they cannot do because of disability, ill-health or childcare responsibilities, yet those organisations insist on claimants applying. The report of interim findings cites the ridiculous case of a Scottish universal credit claimant who was asked to apply, under the threat of sanction, for a job as a driving instructor, despite the fact that he had said that he did not have a driving licence.

Much of the support offered is of a generic nature when, as others have said, it should be person centred. It has been limited to things such as help with writing CVs and job search skills. Individualised packages of support are needed. Sick and disabled jobseekers who were interviewed in the study reported being offered only that very general kind of support.

The DWP’s own survey of work programme participants found that over 70 per cent of those on the programme with a health condition were not offered health-related support to help them find work. Providers have openly admitted that there is not sufficient funding in the work programme to pay for on-going specialist support to help participants with disabilities and health conditions. The Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion reported that work programme providers spend as little as £545 to provide up to two years of support for employment and support allowance participants.

One of the few positive messages to come out of the report is that on the great work done by Jobcentre Plus disability advisers. Perhaps inevitably, in the topsy-turvy world of the DWP where nothing seems to make sense, those advisers are now being withdrawn from jobcentres and mainstream jobcentre staff will be expected to provide specialist disability support. The structure of the contracts, which prioritises job outcomes, means that those who are relatively close to the labour market are offered the most support and that more disadvantaged jobseekers are provided with very little practical help.

If the purpose of sanctions is to help benefit recipients into work by enforcing, under the threat of sanction, participation in employment programmes and other schemes of support, and if that support is unlikely — in some cases very unlikely — to help them find employment, the whole basis of the sanctions regime is brought into very serious and fundamental question.

We can now use the powers in the Scotland Act 2012 to chart a different course. Sandra White spoke about dignity and respect, and those principles should underpin our approach.

Although sanctions are not devolved, powers over the employment programmes — some of which are currently compulsory — have now been devolved and new programmes will operate from spring next year. Those will involve a more supportive approach in which people are encouraged to take up offers of employment support not because they are bullied into doing so, but because there are genuine opportunities to find work.

I was very proud to stand for election earlier this year on the only party manifesto that pledged to use the new powers over employment services to reduce significantly the numbers of benefit sanctions that are applied in Scotland. My colleague Alison Johnstone, who has worked with others on that issue, called on the Scottish Government to use the powers in that way and released a plan that explains how it could be done.

Last month, I was pleased to hear the Minister for Employability and Training commit to operating those new programmes on an entirely voluntary basis, and I commend that approach. It will require significant investment in schemes of support that go far beyond the current DWP schemes.

Finally, I turn to the costs of complying with benefit conditionality, which can be considerable. That is an issue in particular for benefit recipients in rural areas, where the cost of transport from recipients’ homes to the nearest jobcentre to attend appointments or to the nearest library in order to use computers to apply for jobs can eat significantly into the scant amount that those people are paid in benefits.

Dignity and humanity will be the hallmark of the way in which we use the newly devolved powers, but we can apply that approach to the entire system only when we have the ability to use all the powers, which will come with independence.

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.

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:

John’s speech on hate crimes against Polish migrants

2015-10-04-jf-speaking-hate-crimes-against-polish-migrantsJohn Finnie spoke in the Scottish Parliament debate on hate crimes against Polish immigrants on Tuesday 5 October, challenging the rising tide of xenophobic rhetoric and making it clear that Poles – and immigrants from all over the world – are welcome in Scotland.

To watch John’s speech on the Scottish Parliament website, click here.

I congratulate Kenny Gibson on bringing this highly pertinent debate to the Parliament.

“Hate crime” is an ugly term, but it graphically describes what I think that Kenny Gibson called acting out “dangerous and prejudicial views”. There must be—and I am delighted that there is—unanimity in the Parliament about how we address it.

I will not rehearse all the historical references, which are well established and have been mentioned by other members. The references to the second world war resonated with me, because of the affection that my father and his brothers had for the Polish people who joined in the fight against fascism. We know that 16,000 families settled in the UK at the end of the war, who contributed greatly to our country. Who were those people? They were the parents of classmates, and they were joined—certainly where I am from, in Lochaber—by many people from the Baltic states.

There has been recent migration to Scotland and the UK, and some 7 per cent of Scotland’s population was born outwith the UK. It is pertinent that Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004 and it is estimated that 44,000 Polish people migrated to the UK each year between 2004 and 2012. As members said, Polish people constitute the largest group of residents of Scotland who were born outwith the UK.

Anne White, professor of Polish studies at University College London, has written about the pattern of Polish migration to the UK. It is interesting that it tends to be young families who migrate, rather than young single migrants, who return to Poland after several years. Many parents move to the UK for a year or two before they bring their children over, and many Polish migrants start their own businesses after a few years. Anne White has written:

“this is a generation of Poles at home in the UK.”

There are certainly a great number who are at home in the Highlands and Islands, and long may that be the case.

Members talked about EU migrants’ contribution to the UK economy. Figures that I have for 2000 to 2011 suggest that the contribution was £20 billion. EU migrants are 43 per cent less likely to be in receipt of benefits and 7 per cent less likely to live in social housing than UK-born people. As members said, they are also likely to be more highly educated.

There are some disturbing figures. In a poll in 2015, in advance of the referendum, 23 per cent of Polish respondents said that they had experienced discrimination, and 23 per cent of those people felt that that had happened on more than one occasion—of course, discrimination will be underreported, given people’s fear of retaliation and victimisation in the workplace. There is also the fees issue, which prevents people from taking up employment cases.

Kenny Gibson talked about poisonous reporting, and the motion refers to “irresponsible and shameful reporting”. I take issue with my Conservative colleague in that regard: I do not think that such reporting was just on the fringes, and I would ask to what end it was being used. We have all seen collages made up of lurid headlines from the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. I do not doubt for a second that those headlines passed some legal test, but they did not pass the moral test and they certainly caused me great offence. The EU certainly does not offend Mr Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail sufficiently to stop him claiming a quarter of a million pounds in EU funds for his sporting estates here.

The EU referendum was characterised by lies, distortions and threats. Racism needs to be challenged at all times, including—as we have heard about—the graffiti and the stickers that have gone up. We need to be cautious not to be complacent in Scotland—the far right is on the rise across Europe and Scotland is no different. As many previous speakers have said, I stand in solidarity with Polish people. In fact, I stand in solidarity with all people and I say to them, “Fàilte a h-uile duine”. You are all very welcome.

On one partisan point, the Green Party European campaign had the tag line of a just and welcoming Scotland, which I am sure that everyone would subscribe to. I add to that tag line: a safe and secure Scotland for our Polish residents.

“We will not pursue growth for growth’s sake” – John’s speech in the debate on Scotland’s Economy

John spoke in today’s debate on Scotland’s economy on behalf of the Scottish Greens. The debate discussed this motion by the new Cabinet Secretary for the Economy:

Motion S5M-00212: Keith Brown, Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/05/2016
Taking Scotland Forward – Scotland’s Economy, Short Term Resilience and Long Term Opportunities

That the Parliament recognises the importance of a strong economy to underpin strong public services; recognises recent successes, such as Scotland securing more foreign development investment projects in 2015 than any other part of the UK outside London, but also acknowledges key challenges, including those facing the oil and gas industry and the renewables sector; supports a focus on improving productivity through innovation, investment, internationalisation and tackling inequality, and commits to take action in support of Scotland’s economy, including extending broadband, investing in infrastructure and building the skills and talents of Scotland’s people.

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

John Finnie:

The Scottish Government motion talks about “key challenges … facing the oil and gas industry,” and the Labour amendment alludes to the issue, as did the cabinet secretary in his opening speech. The Scottish Green Party sees the situation as a great opportunity. We believe that we must secure a strong and diverse economy for the future, and that the economy should offer security, jobs and decent livelihoods.

The oil and gas sector does not represent long-term security. Indeed, that is confirmed by the comments about fossil fuel investment that were made by Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. It is certainly a fact that using a finite resource — which we cannot burn anyway — is not a route to a sustainable future. Therefore, we need a managed transition. The Scottish Government can play a pivotal role in that or we can let neoliberal forces shape the future for us — I think members know which option we in the Green Party would prefer.

The First Minister talked about legislating to establish a new and more testing target for 2020. We know that setting targets is not a problem for us; achieving them is, and we all share responsibility in that regard. Indeed, the First Minister talked about looking for support from across the Parliament for “the bold and sometimes controversial actions that we will need to take to meet that target.”

That is very exciting, and I look forward to that. We want boldness, and the Government will have support from the Scottish Green Party if its proposals are truly bold

The First Minister went on to talk about living “up to our moral obligations”.

As we know, those moral obligations are not just for Scotland or the rest of these islands. They are not even just for the continent. They are for the planet. It is important that we recognise that.

What there will not be support for from the Scottish Green Party is extolling a UK chancellor who has visited austerity, and all the grief that comes with it, on us in order to give bigger and bigger tax breaks to obscenely wealthy multinational corporations who go further and deeper for resources — resources that we cannot use anyway if we are genuinely concerned about those moral obligations.

As the First Minister said, there is “a massive economic opportunity”. We hope that the rationale for that comment was that the First Minister and her officials had digested the wonderful report commissioned by Green MSPs, “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy”. She may not yet be using the language of the report, which talked about our opportunity to move “from energy colonialism to energy democracy”.

However, we all recognise that a transformation to a just, low-carbon economy is about reducing dependency on distant multinational corporations.

Frustrated as I am by the reduced time that I have been given for my speech, I will say that it is quite apparent that the Scottish Green Party uses different language. We will not pursue growth for growth’s sake. We recognise that, to enjoy a prosperous future, we must begin the transition to a sustainable green economy. We support Scotland’s diverse economy, with investment in sustainable industries and those that improve quality of life and reduce carbon emissions. We want an economy that prioritises fair pay and breaks the economics of austerity. We want the more equal society that — as a number of members have alluded to — the vast majority of us in here want.

We will support the Scottish Government motion at decision time. The motion talks about “strong public services” — there is a serious debate to be had about how those are to be funded—and “key challenges”. Most important, it talks about “tackling inequality”. If we go about the governorship of our economy in an appropriate way, we can have a more just and sustainable future.

John’s Speech on the Boycott, Divest and Sanction

On Thursday (25th February 2016) the Parliament debated a motion by Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw against the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign. You can read the motion debated and John’s speech below, as well as watch John’s speech.

Motion debated:

That the Parliament acknowledges the recently published open letter signed by over 150 high-profile cultural and political figures in support of the aims of Culture for Coexistence, an independent UK network representing a cross-section from the cultural world; notes that this open letter calls for an end to cultural boycotts of Israel and Israeli artists; notes the views expressed in the letter in support of a two-state solution and the promotion of greater understanding, mutual acceptance and peace through cultural engagement; notes that one example of this cultural exchange took place in 2015 when the Israeli artist, Matan Ben-Cnaan, won first prize in the 2015 BP International Portrait Award and was given the opportunity to teach art to local school children at the opening of the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery; hopes that, through groups such as the Centre for Scotland and Israel Relations, based in East Renfrewshire, similar educational and cultural programmes will take place in the coming months, and notes the views expressed in the letter that “Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use”.


John’s Speech

“First, I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to Mr Carlaw because the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing is meeting at 1.15 so I might have to leave before the end of the debate.

I declare my membership of the Scottish Palestinian solidarity campaign and the Scottish Green Party, whose mantra is people, planet and peace. Peace and security can be achieved only through global justice and the world will never be safe while we allow the obscenity of poverty, economic exploitation and illegal occupations to continue.

I turn to the issue of boycott, divestment and sanctions. Mr Carlaw’s motion is misleading because there is no boycott of Israeli artists such as Matan Ben Cnaan, as long as artists refuse to collude in the Israeli abuse of human rights. There is a boycott of the Israeli state and those who seek to normalise the occupation of Palestine.

The Scottish Green Party supports the Palestinians’ call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, including a boycott of Israeli goods and services and an academic and cultural boycott, until Israel fulfils its obligations under international law. Those obligations are: withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders; withdrawing from east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and other land that was seized in 1967; withdrawing from and depopulating Israeli colonies in the West Bank; dismantling the separation wall; ending the siege of Gaza; granting the right of refugees from 1948, 1967 and other expulsions and their descendants to return to their homes, as required by United Nations resolution 194; and affording equal rights to all citizens within Israel, irrespective of religion or ethnicity, especially Palestinian citizens in Israel.

If I am accused of anti-Semitism because I am speaking like this, I have to say that I have no allegiance to any faith nor would I be critical of any faith.

The Scottish Green Party will campaign for and support divestment by local authorities, other institutions of government—including the local government pension scheme—and civil society organisations from Israel, Israeli companies and companies that support the Israeli Government’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

The Scottish Green Party supports the Palestinian non-violent struggle resisting the colonisation of their lands, resources and peoples by Israel and by Zionist settlers.

The Scottish Green Party will press for European Union legislation to prohibit the import into the EU of products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Scottish Green Party will work with solidarity groups within Scotland and with political parties and civil society organisations within Palestine and amongst the Palestinian diaspora that share our objectives.

The motion talks of a culture for coexistence; we cannot have that when there are apartheid walls. It talks of greater understanding, but is there an understanding of an imprisoned population? It talks of peace through cultural engagement. I love peace, I campaign for peace, I encourage peace and I condemn violence from whatever quarter—I hope that all other participants in the debate would do likewise.

I want to encourage equality. I support conflict resolution but peace came in the north of Ireland not when the walls went up but when the walls came down. I spoke to someone who was involved in the violence in the north of Ireland and he said, “We killed each other, we maimed each other, we injured each other, and we damaged each others’ property—nothing changed until they bombed the city of London.”

I am not condoning violence from any quarter, be that violence against individuals or violence against property, but there is no doubt that financial imperative can shape minds and change opinions, so I am four-square behind the boycott, divestment and sanctions.”


John’s Speech Caledonian Sleeper Debate

On Wednesday (14th January 2016) John spoke during the Member’s Business Debate on the dispute between RMT members and the operator of the Caledonian Sleeper. You can read the motion debate and John’s speech below.

That the Parliament notes that RMT members working on the Caledonian Sleeper service are in dispute with the new operator, Serco, and have voted by nine to one for both strike action and action short of a strike; understands that Serco has failed to address numerous defects with the Caledonian Sleeper rolling stock despite lengthy talks between RMT negotiators and Serco management and that this failure has led to the resounding vote for action by RMT members; acknowledges that RMT’s health and welfare concerns surrounding the Caledonian Sleeper rolling stock include smoke detectors being disconnected, toilets being inoperable, lighting and heating systems not working, air conditioning problems throughout the summer, no hot water in some coaches for hand washing purposes, water boilers not working, which means that staff must carry boiling water through coaches while the train is moving, pungent smells from toilets, an issue with batteries under some coaches also releasing a strong smell, loss of power in coaches during journeys, which means staff have to find alternative accommodation during the night for irate passengers and serious problems with a number of wheel flats, which has led to some services being completely cancelled and passengers being bussed from Scotland to London, and believes that RMT has identified over 200 defects with the Caledonian Sleeper rolling stock and that Serco’s failure to resolve these issues demonstrates that a below acceptable standard of service is being provided to members of the public across Scotland, including those from the Cowdenbeath constituency. 

“I congratulate Alex Rowley on lodging an important motion, and I want to make two declarations. First, I declare my membership of the RMT parliamentary group, which I am very privileged to be part of. Secondly, my office is based in the iconically named Highland Rail House and our immediate neighbour bar one is the Caledonian Sleeper service. Indeed, I relatively frequently meet the managing director of that service, Mr Peter Strachan. I am happy to go on the record as saying that he is a very straight-talking and engaging guy, who certainly resolved a couple of issues that I took to him. I know that there was a conscious decision to base the service in the Highlands, and I absolutely commend its procurement policy.

Peter Strachan has told me that he is a railwayman through and through. He formerly worked for British Rail, and he has said on the internet that he is “Leading the Serco team responsible for transforming the Sleeper service into an outstanding hospitality service that is emblematic of the best of Scotland.” The managing director knows the transformation that I want. I want the entire rail network to be viewed as a public asset that serves the public, and I understand that the majority of the public want that, too.

We know, for instance, that the east coast service has failed twice under private franchise. It was a success when it was run by the state. We might have seen that as a model to be rolled out across the various franchises, but Mr Cameron saw that as an opportunity to make further profit for his friends, of course. There are break clauses in all those contracts, and I hope that they are utilised at some point. In the meantime, I want the service to be a success. Like many, I have no regard for Serco or its working practices, but I certainly want the service to be a success. That will be a challenge because of the rolling stock.

I am grateful for the RMT’s briefing, as I am sure other members are. That briefing highlights the public money that is connected to private rail.

Due to rail works in my native Lochaber in the very near future, the sleeper will go to Oban. That is not just an opportunity to provide a service to the west Highlands; it is perhaps an opportunity to apply a different service. It is a great opportunity for Argyll and the isles. As many have said, the journey is iconic. However, I am trying to envisage that iconic journey “that is emblematic of the best of Scotland” if I cannot go to the toilet, if the air quality is poor—air quality is a very important issue—and if there are staff going about carrying boiling water. What assessment is being done of that? I am trying to envisage the journey if there is a pungent smell from the toilets. The catalogue of faults should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Serco is certainly to be commended for engaging in talks some months ago, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I am delighted that ACAS is involved.

The issues seem to be fundamental, and I would not have thought that anyone would take issue with their resolution. They seem to be fundamental to any public service, let alone one that we put forward as “emblematic”.

There is some substance to the suggestion that the inclusion of indemnity clauses encourages the train operating companies not to engage meaningfully. People may very well be concerned about the role that that plays in industrial relations.

I commend the role of the RMT. Health and safety, the safety of workers at their work and the safety of the public who are served should absolutely be at the front and centre of everything that we do. I hope that Serco will recognise the importance of health and safety in train operations, that it will engage meaningfully in talks, and that the Scottish Government will play its part in the process, as public money is connected with this. I am sure that the minister would want that to be properly disbursed.

I hope that the matters are fully addressed. It is important to say that the concerns have been legitimately raised, and they should be legitimately addressed.”

Or you can watch the debate here: 

John’s speech begins at  12:43.