John asks Highland Council to stop bankrolling Big Tobacco

John Finnie speaking at the Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie speaking at a protest by students opposed to Edinburgh University’s fossil fuel investments
A Press and Journal investigation has found that British American Tobacco is the second-biggest equity holding in Highland Council’s pension scheme. The scheme increased its investment in the tobacco giant last year from £12.6 million to £15.2 million.

John Finnie has been campaigning to persuade pension schemes – including the Scottish Parliament’s own scheme – to stop bankrolling the tobacco, weapons and fossil fuel industries and direct their investment into more socially useful activities. He urged the Highland Council scheme to dump its tobacco shares:

“The Highland Council pension scheme manages one and a half billion pounds that could be providing a secure future for employees while investing in work that benefits society. Instead they are choosing to bankroll an industry which kills over 10,000 Scots every year.

“I don’t believe Council employees, who have chosen a career working for the wellbeing of the Highland community, want their retirement to rely on the profits of Big Tobacco.

“Ethical investments which avoid supporting harmful industries perform just as well for savers without profiting from suffering.

“And schemes like the Housing Fund for Scotland allow pension funds to invest directly in the homes and jobs Scotland needs – an opportunity Falkirk Council has already taken up.

“I’m asking Highland Council’s pension fund to stop bankrolling Big Tobacco, Big Oil and the arms industry, and build a secure future for its members on investments that will help make a better world for them to retire into.”

John’s campaign against MSPs’ £3.2m bankrolling of fossil fuels, Big Tobacco and the arms trade

“MSPs’ pensions should not be fattened further at the expense of our planet or its residents’ health and well-being, and I am ashamed that the overwhelming majority of my colleagues seem relaxed to benefit personally from socially and environmentally destructive companies.”

— John Finnie MSP

John Finnie speaking from within the Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie speaking from within the Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
In an exclusive in yesterday’s Sunday Herald, investigative journalist Rob Edwards of The Ferret revealed that the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme, which invests the pension contributions of MSPs, holds assets of £3.2 million in dirty energy, tobacco and armaments.

Edwards was reporting on new analysis of the parliamentarians’ portfolio by Friends of the Earth Scotland, who found holdings in companies like the cigarette giant British American Tobacco, and the weapons systems firm Ultra Electronics which makes components for the US’s Predator and Reaper drones.

You can read the full story on the Herald website or on the Ferret site.

John has been campaigning for months to get the MSPs’ pension funds out of fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms trade, and invested instead in socially useful activities like developing clean energy.

You can read the story of John’s campaign so far, and see what you can do to help stop MSPs cash bankrolling climate change and war, on the Ethical Investment Campaign page.

John’s ethical investment campaign – the story so far

“There can hardly be a more nakedly selfish act than profiting off of the human suffering of climate change.”

— John Finnie MSP

John has been campaigning to get pension schemes and other investments – including the Scottish Parliament’s own pension fund – to divest from harmful industries like fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms trade, and invest instead in socially useful activities like developing clean energy.

We’ve created a new page on the website so you can keep track of the campaign as it develops. To see read the story so far, and see what you can do to help stop MSPs cash bankrolling climate change, visit the Ethical Investment Campaign page now.

John urges council chiefs to invest pension funds in affordable homes

John Finnie speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie has written to the Chief Executives of the six Highlands and Islands local authorities, urging them to follow the lead of Falkirk Council by investing a portion of their pension funds in building social and affordable housing.

John has also lodged a Parliamentary Question asking that the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Fund – the pension fund for MSPs – follow Falkirk Council’s example.

Falkirk’s Local Government Pension Scheme Fund has invested £30 million in the Housing Fund for Scotland, managed by Hearthstone Investments. The Falkirk investment is expected to fund the construction of over 300 affordable homes, and the Fund aims to raise a total of £150 million and build over 1,000 new homes.

John has been campaigning to divest public sector pension funds from destructive industries like fossil fuels, weapons and tobacco, and encourage socially useful investments like affordable housing and renewable energy. He has criticised the trustees of the MSPs’ Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme for refusing to take action on unethical investments, and recently supported Edinburgh University students in their protest against the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

John said:

“Public authorities invest billions of pounds in pension funds, and that money could and should be helping to fund the investment we need in everything from affordable homes to clean energy. Our pension funds can do good for society as well as growing strongly to provide for our retirement.

“The dedicated public servants who pay into council pensions aren’t just numbers on a screen. They’re real people who need homes, schools, hospitals, a healthy environment and jobs for their families. It makes no sense to invest their money in things which undermine those needs when it could be helping to fulfil them.

“I believe most people – especially people who have chosen a career in public service – don’t want to be bankrolling oil companies, the arms industry and Big Tobacco. Falkirk’s investment proves there are alternatives; I hope other councils and the Scottish Parliament are paying attention.”

John’s letters to the Chief Executives of Highlands Council, Argyll & Bute Council, Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar read:

Dear Chief Executive

Can I commend to you the approach taken by Falkirk Council which has invested £30M of its pension fund into Hearthstone Investments Housing Fund for Scotland. The Housing Fund for Scotland will help provide for more affordable housing across Scotland.

I believe that such investments which aim to provide a real community benefit ought to make up an increasing share of our public pensions, encouraging moves away from the investments such as tobacco and fossil fuels which damage our health and our environment and the arms which causes so much devastation in communities abroad.

I would be grateful if you would examine the example of Falkirk and consider investing the some of the Council’s Pension Fund in a similar manner.

Kind regards,

John Finnie MSP

John joins Edinburgh students’ climate protest

"Occupied until Divestment" placard at Charles Stewart House, Edinburgh University
Photo: Edinburgh People and Planet
John has praised student climate activists who have occupied an Edinburgh University finance office over the University’s decision to continue investing in the coal and tar sands industries.

At the invitation of Edinburgh’s People and Planet group, John will be visiting the occupation and speaking to the campaigners this afternoon.

Edinburgh University’s top governing body, the University Court, voted unanimously last Tuesday (12 May) to reject calls to divest from the dirtiest fossil fuels. Over 30 students occupied Charles Stewart House, which houses the University’s finance department, the following day.

In October last year, Glasgow University became the first in Europe to divest from fossil fuels, withdrawing £18m of investments from the industry, after a student campaign that was also led by People and Planet activists.

John has been campaigning for divestment and ethical investment practices, including calling for investments in fossil fuels, weapons and tobacco to be dropped from the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme. [2]

Ahead of his visit to the University, John said:

“There can hardly be a more nakedly selfish act than profiting off of the human suffering of climate change.

“I am disgusted by the University bosses’ decision to keep on bankrolling the big oil and coal corporations that are knowingly destroying the very futures of the students the University exists to serve.

“These are companies like Shell, which, it was revealed yesterday, is operating based on a strategy that allows global average temperature to rise by 4°C – twice the level considered the maximum safe increase by scientists. Companies which, despite their huge profits, take more money in subsidies than the world’s governments spend on healthcare.

“The idea that these companies can be made benign by ‘engagement’ is utterly, and probably wilfully, naïve. Institutions who claim to care at all about the world they are shaping with their money need to stop supplying harmful industries with capital and instead put that money into the alternatives, like renewable energy, that have massive potential but are crying out for investment.

“I am optimistic about our chances, not least because of the courageous actions of the students I’ve met here today. As long as there are principled people willing to fight for our future, we have a chance of human welfare ultimately winning out over corporate profit.

“The campaign to get Edinburgh University out of the oil business is far from over, and neither is the fight for a safe climate.”

Peter McColl, a former Rector of Edinburgh University, policy director of the Common Weal think tank, and Scottish Greens candidate for Edinburgh East in the recent General Election, is joining John at the occupation today. He said:

“The great issues of our day are the environmental and economic crises. I’m hugely proud of the students occupying Edinburgh University, who are taking a vital stand to solve these crises.

“Now is the time to divest from fossil fuels. At a time when investment in clean energy technology like wind and solar power is vital we must invest in these technologies rather than the dirty fuels of the past. We need to develop ways to store the energy generated through these technologies. That also requires serious investment, but promises huge rewards. It’s an area where Scotland – including our universities – can lead the world, and end climate change’s destruction of people’s lives.”

John on Good Morning Scotland – Arms Trade Divestment

Today John spoke on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland in favour of Glasgow University following its own lead in divesting from Carbon industries by divesting from the Arms Trade. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0512jmt – Segment begins at 2:44:54

John has previously called on the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB) to ensure that the Scottish Parliament does not invest in funds that include tobacco, fossils fuels and armaments. During a question to the SPCB it emerged that 4% of its pension fund was invested in oil and gas, 1% in oil and gas equipment and distribution, 2% in tobacco and 4% in the arms industry.

Commenting at the time John said:

“It looks like rank hypocrisy when the Parliament claims to work for a healthy, sustainable and peaceful Scotland, but its money is going into bankrolling the very opposite.

“As Desmond Tutu has said, nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering of climate change. Nor should we benefit from the sale of weapons of war, or from the cigarettes that kill 13,000 Scots a year.

“I want an ethical investment policy that takes our money out of fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons, and puts it into socially useful activities like clean energy instead.”

John will continue in the coming weeks to push the SPCB on its investment policies.

 

MSPs’ pensions bankrolling fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms industry

John has called on Parliamentary authorities to remove investments in fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms industry from the MSPs’ pension fund, after it was revealed that almost one-tenth of the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme is invested in those three industries.

John challenged the investments in a question to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), the committee that runs the facilities and back-room function of the Parliament.

David Stewart MSP, answering on behalf of the SPCB, admitted that 4% of the pension fund was invested in oil and gas, 1% in oil and gas equipment and distribution, 2% in tobacco and 4% in the arms industry. He agreed to write to the Trustees of the fund, asking them to “consider the matter in much more detail”.

John said afterwards:

“I’m very grateful to Friends of the Earth Scotland for helping me investigate the background to this issue, and for all their work to encourage divestment from fossil fuels.

“It looks like rank hypocrisy when the Parliament claims to work for a healthy, sustainable and peaceful Scotland, but its money is going into bankrolling the very opposite.

“As Desmond Tutu has said, nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering of climate change. Nor should we benefit from the sale of weapons of war, or from the cigarettes that kill 13,000 Scots a year.

Glasgow University is leading the way in divesting from fossil fuels – the first university in Europe to do that – and I’m hugely proud of the Scottish student campaigners that made that happen.

“Now the Scottish Parliament should follow Glasgow’s example. I want an ethical investment policy that takes our money out of fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons, and puts it into socially useful activities like clean energy instead.”