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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, April 25, 2024


First Minister’s Question Time

Bute House Agreement

1. Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I was going to ask the First Minister when the Cabinet last met and what issues were discussed, but I think that we all know that, so let us look at what Humza Yousaf said about the Scottish National Party’s coalition with the Greens. He described it as

“worth its weight in gold”.

Today, it has turned to dust.

The Greens have called the ending of the Bute house agreement

“an act of political cowardice”

and have accused Humza Yousaf of “selling out future generations”. They said that he has—I am quoting his former colleagues’ words—

“broken the bonds of trust with members”.

They say that he has “betrayed the electorate” and they have called the current First Minister “weak”. Have the Greens, for once, finally got something right?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We have achieved with the Bute house agreement—which, as I said this morning, has served its purpose—a record that I will come to shortly. The Bute house agreement has lasted 969 days or, to put it another way, 19 Liz Trusses.

The record of the Bute House agreement has seen the railways being taken into public ownership, free bus travel for those aged under 22, the banning of the most problematic single-use plastics and an increase in the game-changing Scottish child payment.

Let us remind Douglas Ross that our record is one that we can stand by and can be proud of. Can he say that? It is in stark contrast with the record of a Tory Government that has seen, and overseen, the biggest fall in living standards on record; a Brexit that has been a complete, utter and unmitigated disaster; and the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. That is why the Tories are on the brink of an absolutely almighty thumping from the electorate, and deserve nothing less. [Applause.]

Douglas Ross

I hope that the cameras were looking at the Greens, who all had their heads down and were not applauding.

Let us be clear: the Greens never belonged anywhere near the Scottish Government. Humza Yousaf should have ditched that extreme party on day 1 of his leadership, but he said that they were worth their weight in gold. In his leadership campaign, just over a year ago, he promised to continue the SNP-Green alliance. Just 48 hours ago, he wanted the coalition to continue. This morning he said that it had come to a “natural conclusion”. At what point in the past 48 hours did it come to its natural conclusion, or did Humza Yousaf panic because the extreme Greens were about to jump before he could dump them?

The First Minister

I know that Douglas Ross does not want to talk about the substance of policy—so let us look at the substance of policy. Over the past year, Scotland has been the only part of the United Kingdom to avoid pay-related strike action in the national health service. We have delivered a council tax freeze in every single local authority in Scotland, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party. We have removed peak fares from our railways and invested record amounts in our NHS, and it is estimated that our actions will lift 100,000 children out of property this year.

What has Douglas Ross supported in the past year? Over the past year, Douglas Ross and the Tories have supported the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. They have supported tax cuts for the rich and a doubling down on austerity that is entrenching more children and more households in poverty. He has supported his colleagues in England in their insulting offer to doctors and nurses, who have been left with no option but to go on strike in NHS England. He has supported huge cuts to Scotland’s capital budget.

I am immensely proud of what my party has achieved not just over the past few years as part of the Bute house agreement, but in the past 17 years in government. I would bet that Douglas Ross and the Conservative Party cannot say the same thing about their party.

Douglas Ross

The First Minister completely avoided saying what happened in that 48-hour period between his saying that he was determined for the coalition deal to continue and saying that it has now reached its “natural conclusion”. However, I think that, based on the answers that we have just heard, he was not practising the lines that he is using today, because they are dismal. There is no defence at all.

We said from the very beginning that it was a coalition of chaos, and it has ended in absolute chaos. Humza Yousaf’s Government is in crisis: it has unravelled. He has—

That is rich coming from you guys. [Interruption.]

He has abandoned—

First Minister—[Interruption.] Colleagues—

I think the First—[Interruption.]

Colleagues, let us conduct our business in an orderly manner and let us not shout at one another.

Douglas Ross

I think that the First Minister might be a bit tetchy today. I wonder why. He has abandoned the platform that he stood on. He claims that there is now a “new beginning”, but really it is the beginning of the end. Is not Humza Yousaf a lame duck First Minister?

The First Minister

What an astonishing set of accusations to come from a Conservative. It is astonishing for a Conservative to even utter the word “chaos”. His is the party of Boris Johnson, the party of Liz Truss, the party of a Prime Minister who was outlasted by a lettuce, the party of Kwasi Kwarteng, the party of the disastrous mini-budget and the party of Brexit—yet he uttered the word “chaos”. No wonder Douglas Ross is getting redder and redder and redder. The Conservative Party is a party that has decided time and again to attack the most vulnerable in our society. It is a party that, time and again, has denied climate science. It is a party that has inflamed community tensions.

On the Bute house agreement, I say yes—we can point to the fact that we have committed £75 million of the 10-year transition fund for the north-east and Moray. We can point to free bus travel for the under-22s. We can point to the great strides that we have made in lifting children out of poverty. We can point to the fact that we have some of the most generous grants for clean heat across the United Kingdom.

The Tories have not won an election in Scotland in well over half a century. With Douglas Ross in charge, that ain’t changing any time soon.

Douglas Ross

Humza Yousaf described the agreement as a coalition that was

“worth its weight in gold”.

He stood on a platform to continue it, and now that deal is broken. This week, the First Minister jumped before the Green members pushed him. Even his nationalist colleagues do not trust him.

I can confirm today that, on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives, I am lodging a motion of no confidence in Humza Yousaf. He is a failed First Minister. He has focused on the wrong priorities for Scotland. He has governed in the SNP’s interests and not in Scotland’s interests. He is unfit for office. Should not this be the end of the road for this weak First Minister?

The First Minister

The Conservatives are nothing if not predictable. Here is an opportunity for the Opposition parties to show what they are really made of. Do they want to govern in the national interest? [Interruption.]

Mr Ross.

The First Minister

Do they want to come together with ideas? Do they want to collaborate, or are they going to play, as Douglas Ross has demonstrated, political games? They will be judged very poorly for that. If they want to be judged on their record, let me say that we and I stand very proud of our record. Our actions will lift an estimated 100,000 children out of poverty. Our actions have seen us removing peak fares from our railways. Our actions have seen a council tax freeze that helps households in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

I will leave it to Douglas Ross to play the political games that he wants to play. If he wants to put our record and his party’s record on the line, let us do that. There is a general election coming this year, and I can guarantee him that the electorate will give the Conservative Party—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

—an almighty thumping and show it the door. It deserves nothing less.

Bute House Agreement

2. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

In 2021, Nicola Sturgeon said that the Bute house agreement meant

“bold policy action on pressing issues ... A commitment to more affordable housing, a better deal for tenants ... Steps to accelerate our transition to net zero ... and ... A focus on green jobs”.

However, less than three years on, under the current First Minister’s weak leadership, the affordable housing budget has been slashed, new rents are rising faster in Scotland than in the rest of the United Kingdom, climate targets have been abandoned and the only two green jobs that have been created—Patrick Harvie’s and Lorna Slater’s—have come to an end, just like the Bute house agreement. Given the Government’s record of failure and incompetence, people across Scotland will be asking, “Why have only two ministers lost their jobs today?”

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Anas Sarwar asked me about a whole range of climate change-related questions. This week, we have seen consent and approval for the world’s largest commercial round for floating offshore wind, which puts Scotland at the global forefront of offshore wind development.

Let us look at Labour’s credibility when it comes to tackling climate change. It is, of course, the party that ditched its commitment to invest £28 billion in green energy—giving in to pressure from the Tories and risking the squandering of Scotland’s immense renewable energy potential. In Glasgow, Labour used to support a low-emission zone, then it tried to stop one being introduced. It teamed up with the Tories to oppose workplace parking levies. Whether at Westminster, at Holyrood or in councils across the country, Labour is guilty of not just the worst type of political cowardice but hypocrisy and—frankly—climate denial, at a time when the Scottish National Party is taking the action that is necessary.

I say to Anas Sarwar that we will continue to support and take action where necessary to tackle not just the climate crisis but the nature crisis. Would it not be quite something if, as opposed to opposing every measure that we take to tackle the climate crisis, Anas Sarwar supported them and demonstrated that he is serious about tackling the climate emergency?

Anas Sarwar

I am happy for Humza Yousaf to delude himself that everything is going well and that he is having a great week. Keep it up, First Minister.

The First Minister has spent weeks defending what is a discredited Government. He protests now; however, if Humza Yousaf will not listen to me, perhaps he will listen to Humza Yousaf. Just days ago, he said that the Bute house agreement was

“worth its weight in gold”.

[Interruption.] I know that the Deputy First Minister will not want to hear this—

Let us hear Mr Sarwar.

Anas Sarwar

The First Minister was pleading with Green Party members to keep his shambolic Government together. He said:

“I hope that cooperation agreement will continue and I hope that Green members will also see the benefit of that cooperation”,

but now he has been forced into a humiliating U-turn, and he knows it. These are his words:

“I can’t imagine being the ... leader of the SNP and the first thing I do is destabilise the government by going into a minority government ... I think that would be a tremendously foolish thing to do.”

Does he feel tremendously foolish today?

Not content with stealing Tory policies, Anas Sarwar is now nicking Tory lines when it comes to the questions that he asks. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

This year, Anas Sarwar talks about ditching principles—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

Let me remind Anas Sarwar about his record when it comes to his principles. Anas Sarwar described lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses, when the Tories did it, as “economically illiterate” and morally repugnant; however, when Keir Starmer does it, Anas Sarwar, like a good boy, falls into line. Anas Sarwar used to oppose the two-child limit; he now supports Keir Starmer in retaining it. Anas Sarwar used to believe in progressive taxation; he now supports tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of public services. Is it not the case that the only principles that Anas Sarwar has are those that Keir Starmer tells him that he is allowed to have?

Anas Sarwar

I am rebuilding my party and looking forward to the next general election. The First Minister is destroying his party and wants to run away from a general election.

The First Minister claims that this is all a sign of strength. The louder he shouts, the weaker he sounds. However, for once, people agree with Lorna Slater—he is weak, hopeless and untrustworthy. The challenges that our country faces have never been so great, but Scotland’s Government has never been so poor and its leadership has never been so weak.

One in seven Scots are stuck on a national health service waiting list as the First Minister fails to get a grip on the NHS crisis. Families are struggling to make ends meet, while the Government wastes public money. Green jobs are going elsewhere, while the First Minister scraps Scotland’s climate targets. The people of Scotland can see that the SNP has lost its way—it is weak, divided, incompetent and putting party before country.

The people of Scotland did not vote for this First Minister. The people of Scotland did not vote for this mess and this chaos. Is it not time to end the circus and call an election?

The First Minister

The country will be going to the polls—I hope sooner rather than later—in a general election. Here are the messages that each of our parties will be able to take. I will be able to look in the whites of the eyes of the people of Scotland, on every doorstep in the country, and say that people should vote for a party whose values are the values of the people of Scotland. Our actions are estimated to have lifted 100,000 children out of poverty. We are a party that has chosen investment in the NHS over tax cuts for the wealthy. This nation is the only one in the United Kingdom that has not had its junior doctors or nurses going on strike.

Anas Sarwar’s party is the party that would lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses but retain the cap on child benefits. It is a party that wants to retain the rape clause. It is a party that wants to spend billions of pounds on the obscenity of nuclear weapons, not on reducing household poverty. It is a party that wants to keep Scotland out of the European Union.

Anas Sarwar used to believe in many of the values that this Government believes in. He has flip-flopped, dumped and ditched those principles because his bosses in London have told him to do so. That is the height of hypocrisy, and the people of Scotland will see through it.

Cabinet (Meetings)

To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S6F-03043)


Alex Cole-Hamilton

The two partners to the failed agreement are at each other’s throats. They are now trying to blame each other, but in reality they have both failed the people of Scotland. Together, they have cut our national health service off at the knees, butchered the housing budget, junked climate targets and made life harder for business. Islanders still do not have the ferries that they desperately need, and Scottish schools are tumbling down the international rankings.

The First Minister is ditching things left, right and centre. Two clowns have left the clown car, but the circus continues. [Interruption.] We do not just need—[Interruption.]

Mr Cole-Hamilton, I remind you of the requirement to treat all members with courtesy and respect.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I apologise, Presiding Officer.

We do not just need an end to the Bute house agreement; we need an end to this entire Government. When will Humza Yousaf finally look himself in the mirror and say, “I am the problem. It is me”?

The First Minister

I saw that that got a thumping endorsement from the four Liberal Democrat MSPs in the chamber. Maybe I should listen to what Alex Cole-Hamilton has to say because, if there is a lesson in relation to coalitions and co-operation agreements, we should probably remember the lesson of the Liberal Democrats. When they entered into a disastrous coalition with the Conservatives, they ushered in 14 years of austerity, and to this day, people are suffering the consequences. That is why Alex Cole-Hamilton leads a party that could not even field a five-a-side football team.

What we have achieved as part of the Bute house agreement in the past year, but also through 17 years in government, is that Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom to have avoided pay-related strike action in the NHS. We have delivered a council tax freeze that is helping households up and down the country. We have removed peak fares on our railways and invested record amounts in the NHS and, through our actions, we are lifting 100,000 children out of poverty.

When the general election is called by the Conservatives, we will take our record proudly to every single doorstep in the country. I do not think that Alex Cole-Hamilton can do the same.

Medicines (Availability)

4. Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister whether he will provide an update on NHS Scotland’s ability to treat patients, in light of the reported scarcity of life-saving medicines in the United Kingdom due to Brexit. (S6F-03047)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I know that reports of medicine shortages are concerning for patients and their families, so I thank Kevin Stewart for raising that important question. Although the shortages are caused by several factors, such as manufacturing issues and an increase in global demand, a recent report by the Nuffield Trust makes it abundantly clear that the situation has undoubtedly been exacerbated by Brexit and the associated loss of European supply chains and authorisations. Although the supply of medicines is reserved to the UK Government, I reassure members that NHS Scotland has robust processes in place to manage shortages when they arise, and in most instances alternative products can be prescribed. I encourage anyone who is experiencing difficulties with shortages to speak to their doctor or pharmacist. We continue to press the UK Government, the industry and health boards to find a lasting solution to minimise the impact on patients.

Kevin Stewart

The Nuffield Trust’s research has revealed that in the UK there are shortages of life-saving medicines such as antibiotics, epilepsy treatments, medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and vital chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin and carboplatin, all of which have been exacerbated by Brexit and the UK’s broken supply chain. Will the First Minister once again assure members, and the public, that the Scottish Government is doing everything within its powers to alleviate shortages and ensure that folks get the medicines that they need? Does he share my view that the situation is yet another symptom of the sickness that is broken Brexit Britain?

The First Minister

Yes, I absolutely agree with Kevin Stewart. That is just another example of the disastrous impacts of a Brexit that the people of Scotland simply did not vote for. I want to reassure members and reiterate to them that NHS Scotland has robust processes in place to manage shortages when they arise. In most instances, alternative products can be prescribed. Scottish Government officials are regularly updated on any supply disruptions and will provide advice to the national health service in Scotland on options to address any shortages that might arise. The chief pharmaceutical officer for Scotland is a member of the UK-wide medicines shortage response group, which has been set up to identify and co-ordinate responses to any medicine shortages across the UK, and to provide advice to clinicians on alternative therapeutic options. As the pricing and supply of medicines are matters that are reserved to the UK Government, we will continue to press it to find a lasting solution to minimise the impact of medicine shortages on patients.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Last Saturday, campaigners in Portree protested about failures to deliver in Skye, Lochalsh and south-west Ross the recommendations of the Ritchie report on health provision. They are calling for 24/7 urgent care to be restored at Portree hospital as a matter of priority and for the beds that have been lost there to be reinstated. In recognising that NHS Highland has been unable to deliver on those recommendations, will the First Minister—or his health secretary, if he is still in place—agree to meet campaigners in Portree to hear at first hand their frustrations and concerns about what the on-going delays in restoring services mean for families and communities in north Skye, and to tell them how his Government will ensure that those recommendations are delivered?

The First Minister

I am not sure what that has to do with medicine shortages, but on Jamie Halcro Johnston’s point about services, I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care continues to engage with members and with NHS Highland.

I am aware of the issue from my time as health secretary. I assure both Jamie Halcro Johnston and his constituents in Skye that we have provided an increase to NHS Highland’s budget and a record amount of more than £19.5 billion of funding to the NHS. That is because we prioritised investment in the NHS and public services as opposed to tax cuts for the wealthy, in stark contrast to the approach of the UK Conservative Government. I will ask the health secretary to continue to engage with Jamie Halcro Johnston and NHS Highland.

2030 Emissions Target

5. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what impact he anticipates the Scottish Government’s decision to remove the target to reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 will have on infrastructure projects throughout Scotland. (S6F-03053)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Liam Kerr has a brass neck to raise infrastructure projects with me when his Tory colleagues in Westminster are responsible for a £1.3 billion cut to our capital budget to 2027-28.

We know that investment in Scotland’s infrastructure is vital for our sustainable economic future, and investment in net zero brings huge employment and economic growth opportunities. That is why, last week, we affirmed the Scottish Government’s unwavering commitment to deliver net zero by 2045 and announced a whole new package of climate actions to strengthen our existing bold measures to help achieve and deliver net zero. Those include a commitment to publish a new route map for the delivery of approximately 24,000 additional electric vehicle charge points by 2030 through a mix of public and private finance, and our budget has committed substantial funding towards delivery of our climate change goals.

Liam Kerr

The First Minister is ignorant of having the largest cash-terms block grant in history. One infrastructure project that was promised in 2011 to stimulate the economy, reduce emissions and stop the senseless carnage was the dualling of the A96. The Green Party demanded an unnecessary climate review to stall and prevent that, which, having cost £5 million so far and despite £37 million already having been spent on preparatory work, will not report until the end of the summer. Now that the beyond-credible targets and the economically illiterate Greens have been jettisoned, can the First Minister confirm that all barriers have finally been removed from fully dualling the A96?

The First Minister

Liam Kerr talks about an “unnecessary climate review”. That is incredible language, given that 2023 was the hottest year on record, and with extreme weather events if not by the day then by the week or by the month right across the world, including here in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Liam Kerr talks about an “unnecessary climate review” in the face of all that evidence. That is why the Conservative Party is fast turning into a party of climate deniers, when what we need is further climate action, which we will promise to bring forward. The reality of the situation is that, in real terms, there will be a £1.3 billion cut to our capital budget over the coming year.

We will continue to invest in infrastructure right across Scotland, as we have done in the north-east, be that through the Aberdeen western peripheral route, the new station at Kintore and health infrastructure such as the Baird family hospital and other infrastructure projects. If Liam Kerr had any influence whatever, he would be telling his Conservative colleagues in Westminster to overturn the disgraceful £1.3 billion capital cut.

“Scoping a Domestic Legal Framework for Ecocide in Scotland”

6. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I refer to my voluntary entry in the register of members’ interests, as I receive support from Stop Ecocide International.

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the report, “Scoping a Domestic Legal Framework for Ecocide in Scotland”, which was published by the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland. (S6F-03060)

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting our natural environment to ensure that there are appropriate legal consequences for those who cause significant damage. I know that Monica Lennon is also committed to that objective.

I welcome the report, which is a valuable contribution to the debate on how the law can best achieve the goal. The report demonstrates the complexity of considering a standalone criminal offence of ecocide, and it will take time to consider the recommendations. The Scottish Government’s starting point will be to consider the new European environmental crime directive, which requires the introduction of new qualified offences where damage comparable to ecocide has been caused. It is our consistent aim to remain aligned, where appropriate, with developments in European Union law and EU environmental standards.

Monica Lennon

I thank the First Minister for his response; it is good to get that on the record. I am grateful to members across the Parliament for their constructive cross-party engagement with my proposed member’s bill on ecocide law.

Preventing severe environmental harm is vital to protect nature and the climate, to support a just transition for workers and communities and to help our economy deliver for the people of Scotland. In these uncertain times, when climate action is needed more than ever, will the First Minister confirm that his Government is committed to working with me and all parties and stakeholders on the contribution that ecocide prevention can make, including by continuing the positive dialogue that I have had with ministers on my proposed bill?

The First Minister

Yes, I can commit to continuing to engage constructively with Monica Lennon on that important proposed member’s bill. It is important to say that some challenges have been aired in relation to designing a new criminal offence, and they have to be considered.

I note that the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland’s report concludes:

“there are reasons for Scotland to be cautious before simply integrating”

the internationally recognised

“definition into domestic law.”

I know that Monica Lennon is very aware of that. We are working through those issues.

I look forward to seeing the detail of Monica Lennon’s draft bill. We continue, of course, to commit to working constructively with her on the detail.

We move to general and constituency supplementary questions.

Bute House Agreement

Who does the First Minister think that he has pleased most today? Is it Douglas Ross, Fergus Ewing or Alex Salmond? More to the point, which of them does he think he can rely on for a majority in Parliament now?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Obviously, Patrick Harvie and I spoke this morning. I go back to the points and comments that I made this morning. I thank him and Lorna Slater for their contribution to the Government and to this country. Both parties take great pride in what the Bute house agreement has achieved in almost three years. [Interruption.]

Let us hear the First Minister.

The First Minister

However, it is time for the Scottish National Party to govern as a minority Government and to reach out on an issue-by-issue basis to other political parties across the chamber in the best interests of this country. I believe that many issues unite us. One of the issues that unite the SNP and the Green Party, for example, and one that we will never demur from in any way, shape or form is that we think that all decisions about Scotland are best made by the people of Scotland.

Freedom of Movement (European Union)

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

The United Kingdom Government’s decision to reject out of hand the European Union’s youth mobility offer to make it easier for people aged between 18 and 30 in the UK to study and work abroad in the wake of Brexit shines a dark light on its ideological obsession with a hard Brexit and a perverse desire to submit to the right wing, with Labour hellbent on an outright outwinging of the Tories on Brexit. Does the First Minister share my concerns about that, and will he make it clear today that the Scottish Government will continue to fight for the restoration of freedom of movement so that people across the UK can continue to study and work in the EU?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Anas Sarwar on Labour’s front bench is getting extremely agitated by that question—and no wonder. That is because he is embarrassed by Labour’s dismal response to the youth mobility scheme. I would expect a Tory UK Government to completely reject the European Commission’s sensible proposal to negotiate a youth mobility scheme. For Labour to do that is just another example of how it is moving away from its principles. What on earth does the party even stand for if it will not stand for a youth mobility scheme with the European Commission?

The ending of free movement has again damaged the future of our young people in Scotland, which is a part of the United Kingdom that did not vote for Brexit. We have long argued that our young people should enjoy the opportunities that are offered by mobility, such as study and work experience. We urge the UK Government to respond positively to that proposal and to negotiate a deep and generous agreement with the European Union.

Railway Station (Winchburgh)

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

Last week, the First Minister’s Government scrapped its commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. The Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Net Zero and Energy stated:

“we accept the CCC’s recent rearticulation that this Parliament’s interim 2030 target is out of reach. We must now act to chart a course to 2045 at a pace and on a scale that are feasible, fair and just.”—[Official Report, 18 April 2024; c 64.]

With that in mind, the residents of Winchburgh presented a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to the First Minister’s Government last week that asked for a train station to be built that serves their town and the surrounding area and which could take almost 500,000 car journeys off the road. Will the First Minister’s Government now take the lead and back and build a station at Winchburgh?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We have a proud record of building infrastructure on our railways. However, that job becomes markedly more difficult when Sue Webber’s party takes a hatchet to our capital budget by cutting it by £1.3 billion over the next few years.

When it comes to ensuring that we take action to tackle the climate crisis, it would be exceptionally helpful if the Conservatives did not oppose every single measure that we bring forward to tackle the climate crisis. Of course, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport or other members of the Government—the cabinet secretary may well be recused from the Winchburgh decision—will look at the petition that has been lodged, but I say once again to Sue Webber that our investment in infrastructure is very much hampered by the fact that her Conservative Government has instructed a £1.3 billion capital cut in real terms to our budget.

Care Workers

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

Today, we have with us in the public gallery care workers who are bringing the Scottish Trades Union Congress missing millions campaign to Parliament. Can the Government hear the workers outside, and answer them: does the Scottish Government support the STUC’s missing millions campaign, and will the Government ever deliver for our essential care workers?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

My colleagues the health secretary and Maree Todd will both be meeting care workers. We meet care workers regularly; that is why, as part of the budget—which I think that Carol Mochan voted against—we instructed another pay rise for social care workers, to £12 an hour.

What I have not seen from the Labour Party in any budget negotiations, in particular over the past year, is one costed suggestion for how it would increase the pay of social care workers. In fact, I do not think that it has made one single positive suggestion about how we would invest in social care. We will continue to invest in, and engage with, our social care workers. That is why the national care service, and getting some support from the Labour Party around that, would be most helpful, because it will improve the terms and conditions of social care workers across the country.

Councillors’ Pay

What is the Government’s reaction to the recommendation that local councillors should be paid £24,500 from 1 April?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

We will look at and consider the recommendations of the independent Scottish local authorities remuneration committee, in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It is important that appropriate consideration and deliberation is supplied, and a response will be published in due course. I can confirm that councillors have already received a 6.2 per cent uplift for 2024-25 through the current legislation.

I refer members to my entry in the register of ministerial interests, as my wife is currently a serving councillor.

Apprenticeship Funding

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

On a visit to Prestwick airport by the Economy and Fair Work Committee this week, we learned that the engineering cluster that includes the airport and surrounding companies is burgeoning at the seams and is desperate to expand. However, there is a severe shortage of apprentices. That is also the message in respect of potential investment from XLCC at Hunterston.

Ayrshire College is very keen to deliver the required apprenticeships, but it has had its apprenticeship funding cut. There is now £84 million of public funding put back into the pot with the demise of the Mangata Networks proposal at Prestwick; that was an investment from the Ayrshire growth deal. Would it not make sense to redeploy that money through the regional skills initiative, invest in the Ayrshire College apprenticeship programme and solve the issues that Ayrshire’s engineering works are facing?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Brian Whittle raises a very important point, and I am grateful to him for raising it in the chamber. With regard to the Ayrshire growth deal, that will be a decision for all the partners as part of the deal. I thank Brian Whittle for making a suggestion that is well worth exploring, in particular in relation to funding for apprentices. We know how valuable apprentices are, and how valuable the apprenticeship scheme is. I promise him that we will take a look at that suggestion, and I would encourage local partners, as part of the Ayrshire growth deal, to take a look at it, too, and we can see whether we can find a resolution.

Employability Funding

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

In recent days, there have been worrying reports with regard to Scottish Government delays in allocating employability funding. Failure to confirm funds to local authorities for the no one left behind programme is having a devastating impact on training organisations. Across the sector, 40 people have already been made redundant, and many more are at risk if funding is not released quickly.

Skills and employability systems should be about creating opportunities, not making people redundant. What commitment can the First Minister give to training providers, and to those whom they seek to help, as to when that crucial funding will be released?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will take an immediate look at the particular example that Daniel Johnson has raised in the chamber. We have had a good record on employability grants over the years regarding the apprenticeships and the employability opportunities that have been created, in particular for some of the most marginalised groups in our society. It is important that those grant letters get out of the door as soon as possible so that the situation that Daniel Johnson mentions does not transpire. We will take a look at the specific example that he has raised, and I will ensure that the appropriate cabinet secretary writes to him.

Wood-burning Stoves

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

There is a well-established business in West Linton that supplies log-burning stoves and accessories. I am very concerned that, after 30 years, the business may very well be under threat. I understand that clean, eco-designed wood-burning stoves that use locally supplied wood can be used in conjunction with other renewable energy heating options, and that that position is supported by a Government study that was done a few years ago. Will the First Minister ask the appropriate cabinet secretary to revisit that study, as the issue may affect other small rural businesses?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I will ensure that we continue to keep those regulations under review. I say to Christine Grahame that there are appropriate exemptions in place and we take account of unique circumstances, particularly in rural and island Scotland. I will ask the cabinet secretary to look at the detailed case that Christine Grahame has raised, and to write to her to provide an update.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Rural Areas)

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

“The Rural Divide: the realities of mental healthcare for children and young people in rural Scotland” is a new report by the charity Change Mental Health that reveals the stark inequalities that are facing children and young people in rural Scotland when they access mental health care services. In NHS Dumfries and Galloway, some 44 per cent of children and young people were not seen by child and adolescent mental health services within 18 weeks of referral. The report shows us, once again, that children and young people in some of the most rural areas are not getting the support that they need, when they need it.

The First Minister has overseen the closure of our rural hospitals and our rural maternity services and the industrialisation of our rural landscape. His Government has repeatedly failed rural Scotland and, now, it is letting down young folk in our rural communities. Will the First Minister commit to delivering targeted action to tackle those significant rural mental health inequalities?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

Under this Government, we have doubled investment in mental health and ensured that we have recruited record levels of staff into CAMHS and mental health services. We have a proud track record of investing in mental health. We know that there are challenges, particularly as our services recover post the global pandemic. Organisations such as Change Mental Health are very important across the country. I will ask the minister who has responsibility for mental health to write to the member about the actions that we are taking nationally as well as locally to support people who are facing difficult challenges with their mental health.

Scottish Income Tax (Effect on Migration)

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

New research from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has shown that, in the period after Scottish income tax was introduced, thousands more taxpayers moved to Scotland than those who left each year. That seems to be somewhat at odds with the warnings from the Tories and even some Labour members that progressive taxation would deter taxpayers from coming to live here. Does the First Minister agree that that research confirms that Scotland is an attractive place to live and work, with a progressive approach to taxation that raises additional funds for public services?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I agree with that. It flies in the face of some of the rhetoric that we hear from the Opposition, who claim that the fact that we have progressive taxation would somehow lead to an exodus of Scots. HMRC data has shown that more people from the rest of the United Kingdom want to come to Scotland as opposed to those who are leaving Scotland. I can tell you one thing, Presiding Officer: the Opposition absolutely hates that fact.

The simple fact is that people make choices about where to live and work based on a range of factors, not just tax. In Scotland, people have access to a range of services that simply do not exist in other parts of the UK, such as free prescriptions and free access to higher education. The latest HMRC data confirms that, on average, 4,200 more taxpayers have come to Scotland from the rest of the UK than have left since 2017-18. In 2021-22, which is the latest year for which data is available, net migration of taxpayers improved across all tax bands—which is crucial—and £200 million in additional taxable income was brought into Scotland. It is for others to set out how slashing taxes and running down our public services would make Scotland a better place to live, work, study and do business in. I do not think that that is the case.

Workplace Racial Abuse

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Yesterday, I chaired a meeting of campaigners and business representatives on anti-racism in the workplace. I was disappointed to hear that so many people in our businesses and public organisations felt that they were unable to report the racial abuse that they face at work. Can the First Minister outline what measures the Scottish Government is taking to empower people to report racial abuse in the workplace?

The First Minister (Humza Yousaf)

I thank Foysol Choudhury for raising an exceptionally important question, and for the time that he spent on the issue before he was a member of the Scottish Parliament, when he consistently raised such issues as chair of the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council and other such organisations. He has been a tireless campaigner against racism and hatred of any form over many years.

On the actions that we are taking, I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs writes to Foysol Choudhury with the detail. For example, third-party reporting centres are really important, but there has been some misinformation and disinformation over the weeks and months about why they exist. They are important because some people might not quite feel as confident reporting directly to the police. We have to remove and dismantle those barriers where they exist, and third-party reporting centres can play a role in that.

I will ask the appropriate cabinet secretary to write to Foysol Choudhury with the detail of what we are doing so that everybody feels safe in the workplace to be able to report racism, wherever it exists.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes First Minister’s question time. The next item of business is a members’ business debate in the name of Liam Kerr. There will be a short suspension to allow those leaving the chamber and the public gallery to do so before the debate begins.

12:46 Meeting suspended.  

12:47 On resuming—