John Demands Scottish Government Stops Neglecting Argyll

Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson John has called on the Scottish Government to stop neglecting Argyll and demanded a radical rethink on how the Scottish Government’s transport budget is spent after yet more landslips at the Rest and Be Thankful.

John made the call following the most recent incident of large, multiple landslips blocking not only the vital A83 into Cowal, Mid Argyll, and beyond, but also the Old Military Road typically used as a diversion during previous incidents.

Commenting, John  said:

“There is a £3 billion backlog on road maintenance, £1.8m is for trunk routes the Scottish Government is directly responsible for. Yet, rather than maintain these roads, the Scottish Government charges blindly on spending £6 billion on dualling two roads, encouraged all the way by the other opposition parties.

“On behalf of my constituents in Argyll, I say ‘enough is enough’.

“The Scottish Government must urgently rejig its roads budget and provide Argyll respite from a 60-mile diversion I wager would not be acceptable anywhere outwith the Highlands.”

John Delivers Free Bus Travel for Young People

John Finnie has hailed a deal struck by the Scottish Greens to deliver free bus travel for young people aged 18 and under as “transformational”.

The Scottish Government has agreed to implement free bus travel for young people in a major concession to the Scottish Greens as part of the annual Scottish budget process. This means from 2021 all under-18s across Scotland will be able to use a concessionary scheme to travel for free on bus routes, in a similar way to the entitlement currently held by over-60s.

Commenting John said:

“Free bus travel for young people is a transformational step towards tackling the climate emergency. This scheme could save young people and families thousands of pounds a year, and encourage whole generations of public transport users.

“Buses are the backbone of local public transport and the key to employment and training opportunities for so many of those starting out in life.”

The Scottish Greens have also secured an additional £95 million for vital local services including £9.962 million for councils across the Highlands and Islands, and an additional £13 million for community policing and prevention work across Scotland.

John added:

“Since the 2016 election the Scottish Greens have pushed the Scottish Government to provide councils with a fairer share of funding. I’m delighted that this year Greens have been able to deliver £9.962 million for councils across the Highlands and Islands to help protect vital local services upon which my constituents depend.

Council share of additional funding

Argyll and Bute- £1.701M

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar- £729,000

Highland- £4.509M

Moray- £1.620M

Orkney- £665,000

Shetland- £738,000

John Delighted at Scottish Government’s Coul Links Decision

Welcoming the decision of Scottish Ministers to refuse planning permission for a proposed golf course at Coul Links, John said:

“I am absolutely delighted that this ill thought out and unsuitable application has been rejected. It seems the Scottish Government has learned the lesson from the disastrous decision to grant permission for Trump’s course in Aberdeenshire after all.

“Coul links is a spectacular site of environmental significance and has several important international designations. I welcome the fact that Ministers have made clear that post Brexit they will seek to maintain high environmental standards, they can be assured that Greens will continue to keep them under scrutiny in that regard in the long term.

“It’s important that the Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise now look at how they can deliver long term, sustainable and well paid work for the people of Sutherland, without threatening its precious environment.”

Last night (18th February 2020) John spoke in a Member’s debate on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s decision to enrol pupils entering P1 into Gaelic-medium education (GME) as the default choice. You can read and watch John’s speech below.

 

“Moran taing is gabhaibh mo leisgeul. Chan eil ach beagan Gaidhlig agam. Mar as àbhaist, feumaidh mi Beurla a bhruidhinn.

I give my usual apology as I speak only a little Gaelic, Presiding Officer. I congratulate Dr Allan for lodging the motion and acknowledge how well crafted it is.

The motion lays out very precisely the aspects that need to be covered in debate. The first two paragraphs emphasise choice. No one is denying choice: the decision is an opportunity to increase availability of Gaelic medium education, driven largely by demand for it, which is to be welcomed. As the motion notes,

“the percentage of children entering GME in Na h-Eileanan an Iar has steadily increased over the last decade”

and

“55% was an action in the council’s statutory Gaelic Language Plan.”

I am ambivalent about plans: they are great if they are acted on, but too often they sit in nice folders on shelves, gathering dust. It is great to see such action being taken. The council is to be commended.

The motion refers to a

“progressive step to consolidate the national language in its heartland communities”,

which is very important.

On many occasions in Parliament, we have discussed the benefits of bilingualism. I have four grandchildren, two of whom are bilingual and fluent in Gaelic and two of whom are trilingual, also speaking Catalan and Castilian, as they call it. The benefits and the outward-looking approach that speaking other languages gives people should be widely recognised—indeed, the benefits are recognised in numerous academic studies. The motion alludes to the evidence that GME pupils outperform their English-medium education peers in English reading by primary 5. That is a very interesting statistic.

As has been touched on, there is a role for all of us in Parliament in promoting Gaelic—not as tokenism, but meaningfully. It would be very easy in a debate, particularly a members’ business debate, to be nice and cosy and cuddly, but we have to confront some things. What I would like to confront has been touched on—the comments of the Conservative Party’s since-shunted education spokesperson, who described the commendable steps as “deeply troubling”. Dr Allan talked about the deep hurt that it had caused. It is a deep hurt. People in the Highlands and Islands are sick of folk telling them how to do things. The Conservative Party spokesperson said that the children would be at a “distinct disadvantage” to their peers—clearly, that is completely erroneous—and that Gaelic should not be taught “at the expense of English”. English is more than capable of standing up for itself.

We heard from Rhoda Grant about people being belted for speaking Gaelic; perhaps Donald Cameron will know whether people have been belted. Ignorance is not offset by an apology, but I do not think that what we heard from the Conservative spokesperson was an apology. To the ignorant, I would say “Measar an t-amadan glic ma chumas e a theanga.” Of course, ignorance is widespread.

People have mentioned Highland Council and the demands that are placed on its school estate. Indeed, I have raised those demands with the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. I have also raised with Highland Council the fact that it has been given £4 million by the Scottish Government that it is yet to do anything with. To have a Gaelic medium education school overflowing is intolerable. Public money should be dispersed in the proper way.

In the short time that I have left, there are many positive things that could be said. As members have said, it is not a party political issue. I was delighted, and not remotely surprised, to hear the positive comments by my colleague Donald Cameron, which were consistent with the view that should prevail across this chamber. Once again, I thank Dr Allan for bringing the debate to Parliament.”

 

 

The Motion debated was:

That the Parliament welcomes Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s decision to enrol pupils entering P1 into Gaelic-medium education (GME) as the default choice; recognises that parents can still choose to put their children into English-medium education (EME); further recognises that this decision was taken as a majority of parents were expected to enrol their children into GME in 2020; notes that the percentage of children entering GME in Na h-Eileanan an Iar has steadily increased over the last decade; further notes that increasing the level of GME enrolment to 55% was an action in the council’s statutory Gaelic Language Plan; commends Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for becoming the first council in Scotland to take this policy decision; further commends the council for taking what it sees as this progressive step to consolidate the national language in its heartland communities; understands that there is an overwhelming consensus among academics and researchers in support of the cognitive benefits of bilingual education, and reiterates the findings of the 2010 study by the University of Edinburgh, which it understands outlined evidence that GME pupils, on a whole, outperform their EME peers in English reading by P5.

Greens win greater protections for biometric data

Scottish Greens Justice Spokesperson John Finnie MSP today secured support for an amendment to the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Bill which adds greater protections for data held by the police.

The Bill creates the position of Biometrics Commissioner who will provide independent oversight of police use of biometric data, including by creating a code of practice.

The original drafting of the Bill would have required police simply to “have regard” to the code of practice but following Mr Finnie’s amendment they will now be required to “comply” with the code.

Biometrics is a broad category which includes data such as fingerprints and DNA which have been used by police for years, as well as emerging technology such as facial recognition software.

John Finnie MSP said:

“I am delighted to have won support for my amendment which will help ensure that extremely sensitive data is handled with the utmost care. Obviously there are practical benefits to police use of biometrics but that must be carefully balanced with individuals rights. My amendment will ensure that the independent oversight provided by the new Commissioner will be rigorous and enforceable. There is no room for ambiguity on such an important subject.”

Brexit Will Erode Scotland’s Justice System From Day One

Scotland’s justice system will be downgraded from the moment we leave the European Union, according to Scottish Greens Justice Spokesperson John Finnie MSP.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions this afternoon Mr Finnie highlighted that, despite assurances from the Home Office, the European Arrest Warrant will not continue to operate as it currently does, with a number of countries including Germany exercising their constitutional obligations not to extradite citizens outwith the EU.

John Finnie MSP said:

“We’ve long been told that, at least during the transition period, arrangements would continue as usual. We now know that Scotland’s justice system will face a substantial downgrade on day one, with further erosion to come in the months ahead. Scotland’s justice system benefits from mutual cooperation with our friends and neighbours across the EU. It is outrageous that Scotland’s crime fighting capability faces such significant erosion as a direct result of a Brexit project that has been imposed on us against our will.”

You can watch John’s FMQ here:

John Calls on Scottish Government to Reject Coul Links Application

Yesterday (Wednesday 15th January) John led a Member’s Debate in the Chamber ahead of World Wetland’s Day 2020 on February 2nd. In his speech to MSPs John highlighted the valuable role Scotland’s protected Wetlands serve in protecting biodiverse habitats across Scotland for many species and the dangers posed to them by climate change and human developments.

 

Drawing comparisons with the Foveran Links at Menie which are now facing losing their protected designations following the construction of the Trump Golf Course, John urged Scottish Ministers to reject the Coul Links application to prevent history repeating itself.

You can read John’s speech below or watch it here:

 

 

“I thank members from across the chamber for their support, and I thank the many organisations that provided briefings for the debate.

Like many others, the Scottish Government has declared a climate emergency, so we know that the status quo is not an option. We must review everything that we do and, most important, we must change our outlook and our actions. People have seen the graphic and disastrous consequences of climate breakdown in Australia and Indonesia. We have all seen the horrendous pictures on our television screens, which have prompted a lot of discussion that might not otherwise have taken place. We need to focus our attention on the need to protect Scotland’s precious environment.

World wetlands day is on 2 February, and the debate is part of it. I commend the Scottish Government for its active promotion of the year of coasts and waters.

I do not think that too many people set out to destroy our environment; however, there are some selfish individuals, organisations, corporations and Governments whose flawed priorities remain unchanged and whose unwillingness to take any responsibility for addressing the global emergency must be condemned. They must be taken to task.

Ramsar sites are classified under the convention on wetlands of international importance. The mission of the convention is:

“The conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international co-operation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.”

The United Kingdom signed up to the convention in 1976. Globally, 2,200 sites across 169 countries are included on a list of wetlands of international importance: the Ramsar list. We in Scotland are honoured, as we have 521 Ramsar sites covering a total of about 313,000 hectares that are designated as internationally important wetlands.

Most Ramsar sites in Scotland are linked to the Natura 2000 network, either as a special protection area or a special area of conservation, and all of them are underpinned by designation as sites of special scientific interest.

The sites are of importance for many reasons, not least for their wide variety of water birds, bogs, lochs, coastal wetlands and other water-dependent habitats and species. Such habitats are a unique home for a wide array of birds, fish, mammals and invertebrates and they provide hunting grounds for many other predator species. Scotland’s wetlands also produce significant benefits to the overall environment by providing flood control and water filtration.

The climate emergency and continued development of such sites pose an existential threat to the future of Scotland’s wetlands and their species. Therefore, the motion

“Welcomes calls on the Scottish Government encouraging it to support continued and greater protection for Scotland’s wetlands.”

Scotland is also globally important for peatlands and the world’s largest expanse of blanket bog is at Forsinard in the flow country in the north of my region. In 2020, Scotland’s important wetlands will be celebrated with the year of coasts and waters.

Wetlands can provide nature-based solutions to climate change by storing carbon and helping to mitigate more frequent storms and droughts. Globally, peatland stores nearly 30 per cent of all the carbon that is stored on land. Although the Scottish Government’s peatland action fund, biodiversity challenge fund and agri-environment climate scheme have helped to improve them, wetlands are still threatened by climate change and changes in land use, which are two of the key drivers of biodiversity loss that were identified in the “State of Nature 2019” report.

Our wetlands are also under threat from the spread of invasive non-native species. Scotland hosts most of the water catchments in the UK that are yet to be affected by the spread of invasive species; however, effective biodiversity security measures are needed now to avoid damage from that intensifying threat.

Sadly, nature is in decline, with 11 per cent of species being at risk of extinction. A step change in narrative, policy and practice is necessary to reverse that situation and to address the climate emergency. As I said, climate change and changes in land use are two of the key drivers of biodiversity loss identified by the “State of Nature 2019” report.

Imagine that someone had 14-plus hectares of internationally important, unique and irreplaceable dune habitats and that there was a proposal that could cause significant disruption to the natural dune processes and ecosystems. If that proposal would bring about the spread of fertilisers and pesticides across the site, and prompt the widespread risk of disturbance to many of the sensitive species and habitats from increased human use of the site, I hope that all members in the chamber would have grave concerns about it.

We know that hydrological change and pollution are two key drivers in the decline of natural diversity, which is also identified in “State of Nature 2019”. The global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services identifies that changes in land and sea use are the most important drivers in the loss of nature.

If such a destructive proposal existed, we would hope that the Scottish Government would recognise the site’s national importance in relation to our natural heritage; I am gratified to say that it has. We hope that the Scottish Government would call in a planning application that would have such disastrous consequences, and it has. The site is Coul Links in east Sutherland, which I represent, and the proposal is to build a golf course on that site of world significance. The proposal has been considered at a public inquiry, the reporters have submitted their recommendations and the planning minister, Kevin Stewart, is now deliberating. I accept that ministers cannot comment on live planning matters, but they can discuss the generalities, as outlined in my motion.

Why is that planning decision so significant? If that damaging proposal were given the go-ahead, it would send a clear signal to those around the world who are watching the case. It could have implications for the future of all protected sites in Scotland.

I readily accept that each planning case is considered on its merits, but if consent were given to such a proposal, it would be more difficult to refuse future applications to develop sites with similar levels of protection and conservation designations. It would also cast doubt on the Scottish Government’s commitment to address the climate and nature emergency. It could affect Scotland’s performance against the Aichi global nature targets—in particular, it could affect performance on target 11 regarding conserving protected wildlife sites, but it could also affect targets 5, 12 and 14. It would also suggest that the Scottish Government does not have regard to the views of Scottish Natural Heritage—a Government organisation that takes an evidence-based approach to all matters and has opposed the proposal.

Scotland has declared a climate emergency. The Scottish Wildlife Trust—one of the many organisations that provided information for the debate—tells us that progress on sustainable development goal has stalled; a joined-up approach is needed to fully achieve those goals; the goals are designed to be interconnected, but the current approach is fractured; and a natural climate solution can help to achieve the goals and reflect the interconnectedness of climate change and biodiversity in rural and urban areas.

Ministers should show decisive action in protecting our wetlands and coasts. They should reject the Coul Links application so that it does not set a precedent for unsustainable development.

I draw members’ attention to a report—

The report is entitled “Reasons for the proposed partial denotification of Foveran Links SSSI”. Foveran Links is an area of dune habitat and intertidal sand. Paragraph 2 of the report says:

“The construction of Menie Links Golf Course within the SSSI has adversely affected the Coastal Geomorphology of Scotland and Sand Dune habitat notified natural features as well as interrupting natural dune processes.”

There has been a “loss of habitat” and there are

“potential indirect impacts from the use of irrigation, fertilisers and herbicides which in time may affect plant communities”.

I accept that no two sites are the same, but there are stark similarities.

The Scottish Government is actively promoting the year of coasts and waters. We must learn from past mistakes, and ministers must reject the application for a damaging golf course at Coul Links. What better way for Scotland to celebrate the start of the year of coasts and waters and in the run-up to world wetlands day?”

John Welcomes End Of Abellio Tenure of Scotrail

John as the Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson has welcomed an announcement from the Scottish Government that the Abellio’s tenure as ScotRail franchisee is to be ended.

In a statement to parliament this afternoon, Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson MSP indicated that the franchise will come to an end in 2022, and will not be ‘rebased’.

Commenting John said:

“Scottish Greens welcome the decision to bring an end to the Abellio ScotRail franchise. Delays, cancellations and overcrowding have occurred far too often on Scotland’s railways in recent years.

“The Scottish Government must now ensure that a robust public sector bid is in place so that our railways can be run in the public interest in future, rather than for private profit as now.

“In light of noises coming from down south that the UK Government intends to attack hard won rail workers rights, it’s also vital that Scottish Ministers engage with trade unions at every step of the process in developing the next franchise, to ensure workers’ rights are at the heart of future ScotRail services and that there is no attempt to roll out driver only operation.”

Sheku Bayoh Inquiry Must Have Power to Call Witnesses

The inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh must have the power to summon witnesses, John has said, responding to the announcement as Scottish Green justice spokesperson.

Responding to a Ministerial Statement laying out the proposals for a “full and public” inquiry, Finnie said key individuals such as former Chief Constable Sir Stephen House should be brought in to give evidence.

Responding, John said: “I welcome this inquiry, and it is vital this inquiry is able to get the full picture from all involved, so that the family impacted by this tragedy can get some answers.

“That means it must be able to compel witnesses to attend, including prominent players such as the former Chief Constable Sir Stephen House.

Equal Protection Bill Granted Royal Assent

John Member’s Bill on giving children in Scotland equal protection from assaults has been granted Royal Assent on November 7th becoming an Act; this follows last month’s passage by the Scottish Parliament. The Act which was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament means that children in Scotland will soon be given the same legal protection from assault that adults currently enjoy. The Act’s main provision will come into effect on November 6th 2020.

MSPs voted 84-29 in favour, with only Conservative MSPs refusing to support it.

Commenting John said:

“I am absolutely delighted to hear that Royal Assent has been granted to my Member’s Bill. This sends 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. Similar legislation is progressing right now in Wales and I hope that we will see similar steps taken in England and Northern Ireland very soon.

“I am extremely proud to have brought forward the legislation that will enhance children’s rights in Scotland and I look forward to the full provisions of the Act coming into force.”