Kent Border Will Damage Island’s Reputation for Quality Produce

The great cheerleaders of Brexit knew that the Irish border would become a Gordian knot of Brexit negotiations, with no solution providing justice or satisfaction to every party involved. During the campaign they managed to duck the issue by suggesting that the trade deal between the EU and the UK would be quickly agreed, with advantageous terms for Britain.

That was, of course, a lie. Mere months away from the end of the transition period and the shape of our future relationship with the EU remains as unclear as ever. Despite the cutting of red tape being among the major rallying cries of Prime Minister Johnson and friends, the Tory Government’s latest plan to manage the coming chaos is a new border between Kent and the rest of England.

Michael Gove has suggested that lorry drivers will need a special permit to enter Kent and that police may deployed to enforce this new border. This comes in response to the UK Government’s own estimates that only 20 to 40 percent of small and medium-sized business are ready for Brexit and that, as of the New Year, between 30 and 60 percent of trucks could be turned back by the French authorities.

The response to burdening small business with unwelcome and onerous new restrictions, is to require them with further paperwork and more confusion.

While the thousands of Lorries parked nose to tail on Kent’s motorways are physically distant to Shetland the knock on effects could send shockwaves through the islands’ economy. The fishing industry is worth £300m to the local economy, with the quality of the produce being celebrated throughout Europe. Sustainably caught Shetland lobster and crab are especially desirable, as are mussels farmed off the islands.

These are all products that are of no use whatsoever unless they arrive fresh to the customer and nothing from the UK Government inspires any confidence that will continue to be possible after the start of the next year. While Shetland’s reputation for quality produce is hard won and well deserved it could disappear in an instant. If produce begins to arrive late or has degraded in quality, then customers will very quickly turn their attention elsewhere and the Shetland economy will suffer a heavy blow.

Since the EU referendum was announced I’ve been clear in my support for the EU and the demonstrable benefits it has brought to Shetland and the rest of Scotland. That was a position shared by the vast majority of people in Scotland, but from the moment the result was announced our democratically expressed wishes have been consistently ignored. While I can’t claim to speak for the people of Kent, who voted by a significant margin to leave the EU, I find it hard to believe that they voted for a border with the rest of England or the kind of mismanagement and chaos we have seen since 2016.

It is clear that the issues facing communities like Shetland simply don’t enter into the thinking of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. This is simply one more example of Tory contempt.

 

**Originally published in the Shetland Times on 2nd October 2020

One year on from the Equal Protection Bill

One year ago, Holyrood took a courageous step when it passed the Equal Protection Bill, meaning that children in Scotland are afforded the same legal protection from assault that adults enjoy. This will come into full legal effect in a few short weeks.

I was extremely proud to bring forward that Bill which will enhance the rights of children in Scotland and help to make our country one of the best places in the world to grow up. However, the effort was far from mine alone.

The Coalition for Equal Protection, made up of Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st and NSPCC Scotland, used their wealth of experience to lend the campaign the momentum it needed. Their research, evidence and campaigning work alongside children and families helped convince the majority of my parliamentary colleagues that this was an important step forward for Scotland.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, also provided important support when he said clearly and plainly “it is never okay to assault a child for the purposes of punishment”. Those simple words cut to the heart of the matter and the children of Scotland are fortunate to have such a dedicated champion in office.

In the year since the Scottish Parliament passed my Bill the world has changed in ways we simply could not have foreseen. Children and young people have had to carry a heavy burden, with schooling and socialising with their friends now an entirely different experience. So, while the simple change to the law we made last year has certainly made Scotland a better place for children there is much more still much more we can do to make it better.

I have no doubt that those involved in the campaign to support my Bill will be working tirelessly to that end as I write. Those of us in Holyrood would be wise keep listening to their counsel. They have both my gratitude and my sincerest best wishes.

John Slams Home Secretary’s Traveller comments

John has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament condemning recent comments from Priti Patel on Travellers.

In an online meeting with Jewish leaders, the Home Secretary suggested that violence and criminality were endemic in the Traveller community.

Her comments have been condemned in an open later signed by more than 80 academics and race equality organisations.

John Finnie’s motion calls on the Home Secretary to apologise and retract her comments.

John said: “The Traveller community has always been part of the Highlands and Scotland more widely. Despite that they remain routinely and unfairly stigmatised in the UK and comments like these from senior public officials perpetuate the problem. The Conservatives have a lamentable track record of stirring up hatred against Travellers and their casual bigotry has a real impact on people’s lives. Whether made through malice or ignorance the Home Secretary must apologise for these comments and the Tories must work to eradicate this prejudice from their party.

”I’ve also written to the Home Secretary requesting she avail herself of some much needed diversity awareness training at the earliest opportunity.”

John calls for Rural Committee to investigate impact of Kent border

John has called on the Conservative Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy Committee to call UK Ministers before it to explain how chaotic Brexit plans will impact Scotland’s food producers.

In a Letter to Sir Edward Mountain, John highlighted recent reports that queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks could be delayed for up to two days in Kent, where hauliers would require a Kent Access Permit to enter, and the need for the committee to understand the impact this would have on Scotland’s food exporters.

Commenting John said:

“We’ve heard this week that hauliers will require Kent passports to join queues of 7,000 lorries which could be delayed for two days because of the Tory’s chaotic post-Brexit plans.

“The Westminster Government’s casual acknowledgement of the delays for trucks in Kent adds to the worry for exporters of Scottish produce, including valuable, time-sensitive sea food exports from the Highlands and Islands, who were already facing uncertainty before this latest calamity was revealed.

“The Scottish Parliament has a duty to understand the problems that our constituents will face as a direct result of the UK Government’s self-inflicted mayhem. It’s vital that UK Ministers are brought before the committee urgently to explain what consideration they have given to Scotland’s valuable food producers and how they will ameliorate the undoubted chaos that will result at the end of the transition period because of their plans.”

John Calls for Rail and Road fix for Rest and Be Thankful

Responding to a statement on the Scottish Government’s infrastructure plan, John as Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson has called on the Transport Secretary to consider a rail and road solution to the ongoing Rest and Be Thankful saga.

Speaking afterward, said:

“Events at the Rest and Be Thankful illustrate the devastating impact the climate emergency is having and will continue to have on Scotland’s infrastructure.

“Some excellent work has already been done by Cowal Fixed Link Working Group on a rail and road option, not only to solve the Rest and Be Thankful problems but also to facilitate necessary regeneration in the Cowal Peninsula.

“The Scottish Government must accept that connectivity doesn’t always require a roads-only solution and give urgent consideration to delivering future proofed infrastructure investment to my constituents in Argyll.

“I note that the Cab Sec states this option hasn’t been considered, sadly, that suggest more of a focus on roads only. I’ll continue to press for wider considerations.”

John backs striking sleeper workers

Responding to reports that Caledonian Sleeper staff are to strike, John as Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson said:

“The Caledonian Sleeper staff can count on the solidarity and support of the Scottish Greens in their current dispute. Serco is a disreputable outsourcing giant that should never have been awarded the Caledonian Sleeper contract, or indeed any public contract, as I’ve repeatedly reminded the Scottish Government. Serco’s refusal to adequately facilitate rest breaks is typical of its approach to industrial relations. It’s a company that doesn’t respect fair work practices and should be nowhere near Scotland’s public services.”

Climate plan needed for Scotland’s railway say Scottish Greens

The Scottish Government must take immediate action to climate proof Scotland’s railways, Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson John Finnie MSP has said.

Speaking following the closure of the West Highland Line between Fort William and Crianlarich due to a landslip the Highlands and Islands MSP called for urgent action to protect Scotland’s rail network.

John Finnie MSP said:

“We know that Scotland’s antiquated rail network is vulnerable to adverse weather, and we know that as the climate emergency grips we will be faced by increasingly severe weather. Action must be taken now to protect and enhance Scotland’s railway.

“Many of my constituents rely on the West Highland Line, and it provides a massive economic boost to communities along its route, but frustrations are building at regular closures caused by the weather. I commend those who work tirelessly to keep the railway open, but it’s clear that we urgently need a climate plan to protect this and other lines.

“The recent fatal derailment near Stonehaven has shown us what tragic consequences can arise. The Scottish Government needs to urgently develop and implement a climate plan for Scotland’s railway, that ensures the current network is protected and all future improvements are climate proofed.”

Abuse redress scheme could let organisations off the hook

The redress scheme for survivors of historical child abuse risks letting organisations where abuse took place off the hook, Scottish Greens Justice Spokesperson John Finnie MSP has said.

Speaking in response to a parliamentary statement from the Education Secretary this afternoon, Mr Finnie noted that the scheme would likely afford survivors, who would be forced to give up their right to pursue a civil claim,  substantially lower sums than they may otherwise receive if they took an organisation to court.

John Finnie MSP said:

“I’ve heard from upset and concerned survivors that the redress scheme as proposed by the Scottish Government risks letting organisations where abuse took place off the hook.

“The payments proposed as part of the redress scheme are substantially lower than survivors could receive if they pursued a civil claim in the courts, yet they would be barred from pursuing such a claim if they signed up to the scheme.

“I don’t doubt the Scottish Government’s good intentions in introducing the Bill, but it is vital that the payments do not simply act as a shield for organisations to avoid paying out larger sums of compensation. Scottish Greens will work constructively to ensure a fairer system of redress emerges as this Bill progresses through parliament.”

Action needed to protect key infrastructure from severe weather

Commenting on reports that the main Glasgow – Edinburgh rail line may be forced to close because of the impact of severe weather, Scottish Greens Transport Spokesperson John Finnie MSP said:

“The Scottish Government must finally take the threats posed by the climate crisis to Scotland’s transport infrastructure seriously.

“In just the last week we’ve seen landslips in Aberdeenshire leading to an awful rail tragedy, widespread flooding across the country leading to significant rail closures and the Union Canal collapsing at Polmont leading to this huge problem on the Glasgow – Edinburgh rail line.

“We know that Scotland will experience more severe weather in the coming years as the climate crisis takes grip, so it’s vital that the Transport Secretary urgently puts in place a robust plan of action detailing exactly how he will protect and enhance Scotland’s rail network. I’ve been calling on Ministers to do this for some time and it’s quite clear that it can’t wait any longer.

“It’s irresponsible of the Scottish Government to continue to commit billions to road expansion projects when Scotland’s existing transport infrastructure is being starved of the investment it requires.”

Grouse Season Must Be The Last Seen In Scotland

the driven grouse shooting season which began on Wednesday must be the last seen in Scotland, the Scottish Greens have said.

The cruel Victorian hobby, enjoyed by very few people, was the subject of a two-year review led by Professor Alan Werrity which reported in January. Despite the fact its recommendations appeared to have been watered down at the request of landed interests, the Scottish Government has yet to respond.

The Scottish Government also failed to act to prevent the mass killing of mountain hares in preparation for today, despite parliament backing Alison Johnstone’s amendment to the wildlife bill to protect the species last month.

Commenting, Scottish Greens rural economy spokesperson John said: “Up to a fifth of Scotland is given up to this cruel hobby practised by a very small group of people. It is a hobby which tears up and burns our land, it kills all kinds of wildlife, yet the Werrity review couldn’t even recommend licensing.

“What’s worse, the Scottish Government has dragged its heels since. It hasn’t responded to the review, and it hasn’t prevented the mass killing of mountain hares despite parliament and public calling for the species to be protected. Birds of prey, too, continue to disappear, like Tom the Golden Eagle who vanished this week.

“There’s nothing glorious about the 12th of August or about the intensive and damaging killing, burning, and degradation of our landscape that is associated with driven grouse shooting. Scotland’s land needs to be freed up for the economic and social benefit of all of its people and used in ways that contributes to a thriving rural economy and natural environment. It’s time for the Scottish Government to get off the fence, come into the 21st century and end this cruel practice.”

Research by Common Weal shows that if grouse moors were used for almost any other purpose it would have more economic benefit. Forestry, for example, would have an annual economic impact of £973m, creating new jobs for approximately every 42 hectares. This would also tackle the climate emergency due to the carbon-storing value of trees.

Meanwhile, grouse shooting creates £32m, with one job every 330 hectares of land.