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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, January 16, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 16 January 2020

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Sustainable Development Goals, Portfolio Question Time, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Disclosure (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill, Decision Time, Point of Order


First Minister’s Question Time

We turn to First Minister’s question time. Question 1 comes from Jackson Carlaw.

Curriculum for Excellence Inquiry

Thank you, Presiding Officer, I apologise for my voice.

Members: Aw.

That is probably the nicest that Scottish National Party members have been to me in 13 years. [Laughter.]

Last week at First Minister’s question time, the First Minister was in denial about the state of Scottish education. What is her response to yesterday’s call from MSPs from across the chamber for a full inquiry into broad general education and curriculum for excellence? Will she hold one?

The Scottish Government will abide by the decision of Parliament yesterday and the Deputy First Minister will set out in due course how that will be taken forward.

Of course, I point out to Jackson Carlaw that a review of broad general education was carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015. When it issued its report and made its recommendations, the Scottish Conservatives welcomed the report and said that they agreed with its recommendations.

There is already a commitment to ask the OECD to carry out a review of the senior phase, but of course we will abide by the decision that Parliament took yesterday, whether or not we consider that that is necessary.

It is important that we have a full inquiry. A majority of MSPs across parties have demanded that and I am grateful if the First Minister is saying that her Government will respect the will of Parliament.

In so doing, does she also accept—as do the majority of MSPs in the chamber—that there are key weaknesses in key aspects of Scotland’s school education and the qualifications structure that challenge her Government’s claim that after 13 years of the SNP, Scotland’s schools are producing a strong set of results?

I welcome Jackson Carlaw’s comments about the will of Parliament, and I hope that the Scottish Conservatives will apply that generally to decisions of this Parliament.

It is not and has never been my position as First Minister, the position of the Deputy First Minister as education secretary, or of this entire Government that there are not areas of Scottish education where we require to see improvement. That is why we are taking the action that we are taking. It is, of course, why in 2015 the OECD reviewed broad general education and why the Deputy First Minister has instructed a review of the senior phase.

What I did last week, and will do again today, is point to the evidence. Whether we look at performance at level 5, at level 6—which of course is highers—or in terms of the number of pupils who achieve five highers or more, all the evidence says that performance is improving. Of course, we want to see it improve even further, which is why we will continue with the range of reforms that are under way in Scottish education.

Let us remind ourselves of some of the concerns that were raised in yesterday’s debate. More than 50 per cent of schools offer only six subjects in secondary 4; national 4, national 5, higher and advanced higher are being taught in the same class; and we are seeing the lowest higher and advanced higher results for five years. Those are serious matters and they should command our attention.

In saying that she will respond to the call from Parliament yesterday, does the First Minister accept that the nature and scope of the inquiry that has to take place must go beyond simply accepting that some things are going right in Scottish education, and focus on the things that are going wrong?

If we are going to instruct a review, it is important to allow that review to do its work. That is what we did in 2015 with the OECD review of broad general education, which I think reported early in 2016. Of course, that is the intention with the review of the senior phase, but, as I said earlier, the Government will say later how we intend to take forward the decision that Parliament took yesterday.

I can understand this, because it does not suit his narrative, but Jackson Carlaw never engages with the facts that are put forward in the chamber. Let me repeat some of them today. In 2006-07, the percentage of school leavers getting a level 5 qualification was 71.1 per cent. In the most recent year for which we have statistics, it was 85.9 per cent. When we took office, fewer than half of pupils left school with a higher; the exact percentage was 41.6. Today, almost two-thirds—62.2 per cent of pupils—leave school with a higher. In 2009, the percentage of pupils leaving school with five passes or better was 22.2 per cent. Today, that is more than 30 per cent. I readily accept that further improvement is required and that is why we are taking the action that we are taking. It would be good, once in a while, for Jackson Carlaw to accept the progress that those statistics say is taking place in Scottish education.

The First Minister very often accuses others in this chamber of having not listened to the answer that she gave. In the question that I just put to her, I began by saying that we accept that there are many things that are right in Scottish education, but I also said that Parliament’s decision yesterday goes way beyond wanting only to pat ourselves on the back about those issues. Parliament feels that we now need to deal seriously with the things that are going wrong.

It is the things that are going wrong that this Government consistently dismisses, undermines and refuses to engage with. My suspicion, from hearing the First Minister’s answer, is that the review will be a whitewash, not a proper investigation into the real problems that exist.

Will the First Minister agree and repeat, not just that she will consider in due course, but that the review will be a full inquiry that will deal directly with the issues that a majority of this Parliament—from all parties other than her own—accepted needed to be dealt with as a matter of urgency?

Jackson Carlaw really needs to be quite careful.

I will take the positive out of what he said and perhaps we can get some kind of consensus here. If I heard Jackson Carlaw correctly, I think that he is now conceding that we are seeing progress going in the right direction: pupils are leaving school with national 5 and higher qualifications, and with five highers or more. If Jackson Carlaw is now conceding that, then that is, indeed, progress.

I have never stood here and said that there is not a need to look at where further improvement is required.

I think that Jackson Carlaw has to be really careful about what he said about whitewash reviews. The 2015 review into broad general education and the curriculum for excellence generally was carried out by the OECD, and the review of the senior phase that the Deputy First Minister has instructed will also be carried out by the OECD. Surely, Jackson Carlaw is not suggesting in any way, shape or form, that that will be anything other than an independent and robust review? In fact, the 2015 review, as I said earlier, was welcomed by the Scottish Conservatives, who accepted and agreed with its recommendations.

The Deputy First Minister will reflect on what Parliament decided yesterday. I have said that we will abide by that, and that we will advise on how we will take the matter forward.

Any fair-minded person would look at the reviews that this Government has instructed so far and would not come to the conclusion that Jackson Carlaw has. There is progress in Scottish education. We want to see that progress continue and accelerate, and that is why we will continue to get on with that job.

Allan Marshall (Fatal Accident Inquiry)

Last year, the fatal accident inquiry into the death of Allan Marshall found that his death in custody was “entirely preventable”. A fortnight ago, we learned that Allan’s family are now planning to launch legal action against the Scottish Prison Service, Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Does the First Minister understand the hurt and frustration that is felt by Allan Marshall’s family, and does she accept that justice still has to be delivered?

Yes, I understand the hurt and the pain of Allan Marshall’s family—indeed, of any family who face those circumstances. My deep condolences and thoughts are with them.

The Government—indeed, any agency whose conduct is the subject of a fatal accident inquiry—has a duty to learn from any recommendations. That will be the case for the Scottish Prison Service following the FAI into what happened with Allan Marshall.

As Richard Leonard said, Allan Marshall’s family have—as they are entirely entitled to do—indicated an intention to raise legal proceedings, and I am sure that he will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to go into any detail right now of the circumstances of that potential legal action. Suffice it to say two things that I have already said: my thoughts remain with Allan Marshall’s family; and the lessons that are in the FAI findings and its recommendations must be taken forward, and they will be.

It is not only Allan Marshall’s family who have lost a loved one because of entirely preventable failures. The case of Craig McClelland has been raised with the First Minister a number of times by Labour’s Neil Bibby. Craig was murdered in 2017, in an unprovoked knife attack by an offender who had unlawfully removed his electronic tag. Craig’s attacker had been on the run for nearly six months.

The McClelland family called for a public inquiry, but the Government refused. The family sought a fatal accident inquiry and supported legislation that would have made a fatal accident inquiry mandatory when a murder is committed in such circumstances. However, the Government voted that down.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice defended his decision, claiming that

“where the circumstances justify it, the Crown will undertake a death investigation”.—[Official Report, 25 June 2019; c 97.]

However, the McClelland family were told just before Christmas that their request for a fatal accident inquiry had been denied. Why do the circumstances of Craig McClelland’s death not justify an inquiry?

I have discussed the case of Craig McClelland in the chamber before—in response, I think, to questions from Jackson Carlaw and others—and I say again that what happened in that case was dreadful and tragic. My thoughts and condolences are with Craig McClelland’s family as well. A number of lessons have been learned. Whenever there is a request for a public inquiry, that is considered very carefully by the Government and the reasons for our decisions are set out. In some cases, of course, public inquiries are instructed.

As, I hope, Richard Leonard knows, decisions on fatal accident inquiries are constitutionally entirely matters for the law officers—the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General. They are not decisions for the Scottish Government, and nor should they be. Therefore, it is not appropriate for me to second guess or comment on the decisions that the law officers make in that regard. However, whether or not there is a fatal accident inquiry, it is incumbent on the Government to learn any appropriate lessons, and we always endeavour to do that. Legislation has been referred to in relation to the circumstances of that case, in which a tag was removed, and the legislation that was recently passed by Parliament that created a new offence of being “unlawfully at large” was, in part, a response to such circumstances.

I absolutely understand the deep distress of families in that situation. If it was a member of my family, I would be in exactly the same position. The Scottish Government has a responsibility to respond and to make considered judgments on such matters, and we will always seek to do that.

I accept that that separation of powers exists, but it was the choice of the Scottish Government not to make FAIs mandatory in cases such as that which led to the death of Craig McClelland. The two process reviews that were conducted following Craig’s tragic death highlighted significant failures in the home detention curfew system, which only strengthened the case for an independent inquiry.

Craig McClelland’s family have met the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. They have listened to what he has to say, but they have no confidence that lessons have been learned. Last month, the justice secretary laid before Parliament new regulations on the use of tagging equipment just three days before they were due to come into force. He breached parliamentary procedure, side-stepped full scrutiny and potentially put public safety at risk.

It is the First Minister’s duty to ensure that the public has confidence in the justice system. The families of Craig McClelland and Allan Marshall have been badly let down and have lost their faith in the system. If they have no confidence in the justice system, why should anybody else?

I fully understand why families who face the circumstances that those particular families have faced would feel the way they do, and I would be the last person to suggest that they should feel otherwise. The Government must ensure that lessons are learned. The justice secretary has set out to the Parliament the different lessons that have been learned and the steps that have been taken to make changes in a number of areas as a result of not just this case but other very tragic cases that we have seen. It is our responsibility, which we take very seriously and discharge, to make sure that we have a sound and solid justice system—respecting the separation of powers, of course, which is important in all these matters—and we will continue to do that.

There are some circumstances—deaths in custody, for example—in which fatal accident inquiries are mandatory. Beyond that, careful consideration is given to whether to have FAIs, and it is important that such decisions are for the law officers to make, having taken appropriate account of all the circumstances. I am sure that the Lord Advocate would be more than willing to respond further on this particular case, but it would not be appropriate for me to step into the Lord Advocate’s shoes on the decisions that are made, which are taken extremely seriously.

In general terms, the Government will always seek to respond carefully, sensitively and appropriately when issues such as the one that has been referred to arise, so that we learn the right lessons and, where necessary, make the right changes.

We have some constituency questions. The first is from Kenneth Gibson.

Trans Women in Prisons

Last night, I attended a meeting with 12 other MSPs and around 50 people, mostly from front-line women’s organisations, to discuss women’s sex-based rights. We heard from one of my constituents, who is a retired prison governor, that, although the Scottish Prison Service would not contemplate placing a trans man in a male prison, it has fewer qualms about placing a trans woman who is still physically male in a female prison. A risk assessment takes into account only a trans woman’s propensity for violence; it does not assess the potential psychological impact on female prisoners, many of whom are extremely vulnerable, having endured years of violence at the hands of male perpetrators. That can have, and has had, serious impacts on the mental wellbeing and rehabilitation of vulnerable female prisoners. Is not it time to ensure that people who are physically male are no longer admitted to female-only prisons?

I am not aware of the terms of the discussion that was had last night, beyond what Kenny Gibson has narrated in the chamber, but I am more than happy to ask the justice secretary to respond in detail on the particular point.

More generally, this is obviously a sensitive and controversial issue. It is very important not only that we respect and protect women’s rights—I have spent a lifetime as a committed feminist doing exactly that—but that we respect and protect trans rights and allow a proper debate, as the Government is seeking to do with draft legislation, to convince those who have concerns about the issue that there is not a tension and inevitable conflict between women’s rights and trans rights. That work is under way and the Government will continue to take it forward in a responsible and sensitive manner.

Penman Engineering (Administration)

Following yesterday’s devastating news that Penman Engineering in Dumfries has entered administration for the second time, what steps will the Scottish Government take to help to secure the future of the company and its regionally significant, highly skilled manufacturing jobs? Can the First Minister assure my constituents that her Government will provide every possible support to employees and their families at this difficult time, particularly so soon after the festive period?

Yes, I will give that assurance. That is how the Government always seeks to operate in these very difficult situations. I take the opportunity to express my concern about Penman entering administration and, of course, about the impact that that has in terms of the 44 jobs that, as I understand it, are immediately lost as a result. The Government’s immediate concern is the workforce, and we will do all that we can to support them. Affected employees have already received information on partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—support and I understand that arrangements are under way for a PACE event to be held in Dumfries next Monday, 20 January. Scottish Enterprise is also establishing contact with the administrators to provide whatever support it can, working closely with partners in the South of Scotland Economic Partnership. I will ask the economy secretary to keep the member fully updated.

Fatal Accident Inquiry (Milly Main)

It is almost three years since Milly Main died after contracting an infection from the water supply at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital campus. Unbelievably, Milly’s parents were not told the true cause of her death at the time. The health board knew that the water supply was not safe and posed a high risk of infections when the hospital opened, it failed to follow protocols and it did not report Milly’s death to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

How Milly’s family have been treated is nothing short of a disgrace. It is right that we have a wider public inquiry, but there must be a specific inquiry into the circumstances of Milly’s death. Her mother, Kimberly, said:

“The health board has let us down at every step of the way and kept us in the dark.

We believe Milly would still be alive today if the managers had listened to all the warnings of infection risk when the”


“first opened. We have lost all faith in the health board and its leadership.”

She said that the family want

“answers about Milly’s death ... so that no family has to go through this ordeal again.”

She said:

“We are calling for a fatal accident inquiry to uncover the truth.”

Does the First Minister agree with her?

I absolutely sympathise with Kimberly, Milly’s mum, and her wider family. What they have gone through is completely unacceptable, and I think that everyone’s heart is with them at this time. Of course, it is precisely because we want to make sure that Milly’s family or any other family get the answers that they consider they have a right to—and they do have a right to those answers—that we have taken the decision to establish a public inquiry. I know that Anas Sarwar has welcomed that.

I absolutely understand and sympathise with the call for a fatal accident inquiry and the reasons behind that. Obviously, as I have just said in my exchange with Richard Leonard, decisions on fatal accident inquiries are entirely for the law officers, not the Scottish Government. However, I am sure that the Lord Advocate will listen carefully to the representations that Milly’s family are making and will respond in due course, which I hope will be as quickly as possible.

Care Sector (Mistreatment of the Elderly)

Like me, the First Minister will no doubt be appalled by the news that hundreds of elderly people have been mistreated by staff in care homes across Tayside and Fife in recent years. Some 939 complaints have been investigated and upheld by the Care Inspectorate. Everybody in Scotland has the right to safe, good-quality and compassionate care that meets their needs and respects their rights. What urgent steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that such treatment is eradicated from our care sector?

The vast majority of elderly people in our care homes across the country get excellent care by dedicated members of staff, and I think that it is important that all of us recognise that.

The member is absolutely right that any elderly person who does not get that excellent standard of care is being let down. In relation to actions, we have a Care Inspectorate whose job is to make sure that there is robust and rigorous investigation of any complaints and to carry out general inspections of care homes. When it does that job and finds failings—we had issues raised in that regard last week—it makes recommendations. It is incumbent on care homes, local authorities and the Scottish Government to progress any recommendations that are directed at them, and that is what I expect to happen.

Many of us have elderly relatives. We should always consider such matters from the perspective of the care that we would want our relatives to have. That is the standard that all of us should expect to be upheld for everyone in a care home anywhere in Scotland.

Scottish Welfare Fund

The First Minister will be well aware of the concerns that the leader of Moray Council expressed this week about the severe cash shortfall in the local Scottish welfare fund. Front-line benefit staff say that there has been a rise in the number of people who are feeling suicidal and the number of people with acute mental health and drug issues. Does she share my concerns about that? What comfort can she give to the hard-pressed front-line staff in Moray and the highly vulnerable people whom they serve?

I of course share some of that concern. It is because we have concerns about the impact of austerity and welfare cuts on many people across the country that the Government established the welfare fund and continues to fund that vital support for people who need it. The welfare fund is under pressure in many parts of the country because of the increasing demand that is being brought about by deep welfare cuts and the continuing effects of austerity. As Dave Stewart and other members know, we are in a budget process right now and these are all matters that we will continue to consider very carefully.

However, in this area in particular, it is important that we focus on the source of the problem. Although we will always do everything that we can to mitigate the impact of the cuts, the sooner we in this Parliament get into a position where we can stop the situation in which the poorest in our society are treated in this way through welfare cuts, the better. Let us focus on tackling the source of the problem, rather than focusing only on what we can do to mitigate it, which we will of course always continue to do as far as we can.

NHS Grampian (Waiting Times)

According to the latest statistics, 44 per cent of chronic pain sufferers in NHS Grampian waited longer than the 18-week target for their first pain clinic appointment. The Affa Sair patient group has been trying to organise a meeting to discuss the issue with the Scottish Government since October, without success. The group said:

“the lack of care, respect and compassion by the Scottish Government is a national disgrace”.

In addition, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport cancelled her appearances at the past two meetings of the cross-party group on chronic pain, leaving patients from across the country without answers. With that in mind, will the First Minister take personal charge of the situation to make sure that patients get their meeting with the Scottish Government and, more importantly, the improvement in treatment that they desperately deserve and need?

I was not aware of the meeting request until Tom Mason raised it in his question. I will certainly be happy to have that looked into, and I am sure that the health secretary will be happy to meet any organisation that wants to discuss those issues. The health secretary tells me that she is due to meet the co-conveners of the cross-party group—I think—shortly in order to discuss those issues.

More generally, our waiting times improvement plan is not just targeted at chronic pain but applies across the health service and is about ensuring that we reduce waiting times and that people are treated within those targets.

Citizens’ Rights

Presiding Officer,

“‘No’ means we stay in—we are members of the European Union.”

That is what Ruth Davidson told Patrick Harvie, and the nation, during a television debate in 2014. We are now a fortnight away from losing our status and rights as EU citizens, our EU friends and neighbours are fearing for their futures, our children are denied the right to move, live, work and love in 27 other countries, and we are denied the right to have a say in our future. Does the First Minister agree that the people of Scotland deserve so much better, and will she tell us how her Government will use the powers that it has to stand against this assault on our rights?

Yes. I agree that Scotland deserves so much better than a Conservative Government ripping us out of the European Union against our will. I do not believe only that we deserve better; I believe that we could have much better if we were an independent country and able to co-operate, within the European Union, in our own right. The Scottish Government will use all the powers at our disposal to mitigate the impact of Brexit, as we have been doing, for example, by providing support and advice to European nationals who have been treated utterly shamefully by the United Kingdom Government. We will continue to consider every way in which we can do that.

Of course Scotland deserves the right to decide its own future, and there is a fundamental issue at stake right now in Scotland. That issue is not, in fact, whether Scotland should be independent; it is who gets to decide and whether that should be the Scottish people, or Westminster. The issue is also whether the outcome of the general election should be respected in Scotland, as the Tories—rightly—demand that it is respected elsewhere in the UK. The Conservatives are running scared of Scotland having that choice, and I can understand why. However, they will not stop it; democracy denial will not prevail. The longer the Tories, and perhaps others in this chamber, persevere with the attempt to deny democracy, the more certain it becomes that Scotland will be an independent country.

The First Minister will share my concern that we will no longer be able to rely on the EU for access to environmental justice. It is clear that Brexit is being used by the Tories to roll back on workers’ rights and environmental standards. Let us not forget that the EU gave us so many of the protections that we take for granted today. Sadly, the Tories have thrown out the guarantees that those would be maintained in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. They have even used the bill to grab further powers from the Scottish Parliament, all because they are desperate for a Trump trade deal. Those actions are a clear statement of their intent.

We in Scotland must do everything that we can to protect people and our environment. Until we rejoin the EU as an independent nation, will the First Minister protect our access to environmental justice and establish Scotland’s own environmental court?

We will absolutely make sure that environmental standards, as far as we have control over them, are not in any way diminished. If anything, we want to go further. We absolutely do not want a race to the bottom. We are in the process of considering and deciding how we replace the environmental governance that will be lost from our leaving the European Union, and of course we are listening carefully to the representations that are being made around the detail of that.

However, that race to the bottom is a real concern. I met the Scottish Trades Union Congress yesterday as part of my regular meetings with it, and it fears a race to the bottom on workers’ rights. We could face a race to the bottom on consumer protections as well as on environmental protections and general standards of regulation. The Tories are obviously intensely uncomfortable right now, as this is being discussed, but there are Tories everywhere talking about the benefits of Brexit all being about the ability to reduce that regulatory protection, so those are real fears.

We will do everything that we can within our existing powers to protect Scotland against that race to the bottom, but the best way for Scotland to protect itself is for it to stop being at the mercy of Westminster Governments—particularly Westminster Tory Governments—and to have the right to choose a better future.

I am reminded of one of the many leaflets on the issue that the Tories issued during the general election campaign. I think that it was one of the last ones. It said to the Scottish people, “On Thursday, you will decide whether or not there will be an independence referendum. The only way to stop it is to vote Scottish Conservative in Scotland.” Well, Scotland did not vote Scottish Conservative. They put the issue on the ballot paper, and they lost. It is time to give Scotland the chance to choose our own future.

We have some further supplementary questions.

“Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland”

The Scottish Government’s 2014 white paper on independence described the annual “Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland” report as

“the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances”.

Given that that is the Scottish Government’s view, why is the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work now proposing an alternative set of propaganda figures to be published alongside GERS? On what data will those alternative figures be based? How much will that exercise in SNP spin cost the Scottish taxpayer?

GERS, which the Scottish Government publishes every year, sets out the situation not under an independent Scotland but under Westminster government. Why would we set out different figures? So that we can show what we can do differently in Scotland and the different spending commitments that we could make—for example, spending more to grow our economy, spending more to protect the most vulnerable and not spending money on new weapons of mass destruction on the River Clyde. Those are the different choices that we can make, and that is one of the many reasons why the Tories are terrified of the prospect of giving Scotland the choice of independence, because they know that Scotland will choose to become independent.

Motor Neurone Disease (Drug Trial)

The First Minister will be aware of the fantastic news that MND Scotland, the Euan MacDonald Centre and the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation launched a major motor neurone disease drug trial yesterday—the biggest and most innovative trial that the United Kingdom has ever seen. Two drugs are being tested as part of the MND systematic multi-arm adaptive randomisation trial, but there is flexibility to run more treatments through the trial in the future. What support can the Scottish Government provide to ensure that we keep discovering new candidate drugs to trial through the MND-SMART programme?

Yesterday’s news about those drug trials for MND was fantastic; I think that everybody across the chamber is clearly of that view.

The Scottish Government has already met Doddie Weir, and we will meet others involved. We have a very good relationship with MND Scotland, which rightly keeps pressure on the Scottish Government to do everything that we can. We look forward to continuing to discuss the support that the Scottish Government can bring to make sure that, as we have done in the past, we are doing everything that we can as a country to get as quickly as possible to a position where we perhaps have a cure for this cruellest of diseases. I hope that members across the chamber will support those efforts—I am sure that everybody does.

Proposed International Commission

What is the First Minister’s message to Labour supporters, who will rightly be mortified by the ill-considered and frankly offensive leadership pitch by Labour’s Lisa Nandy, who wants to set up an international commission against Scottish independence, presumably so that the United Kingdom can deal with Scotland as Spain has dealt with Catalonia? Surely that is a potentially inflammatory and undemocratic position to take.

Angela Constance is right to raise that issue. I am going to try to give Lisa Nandy the benefit of the doubt. I am going to assume, hard though it might be to believe, that when she made her comments, she had not paid attention to what has actually happened in Catalonia in recent times. If she had, she would surely not have suggested that there are any positive lessons at all to be learned from that. Perhaps Lisa Nandy should take the opportunity to clarify exactly what she meant, recognise the concern that it has caused, and perhaps even apologise.

City Region Deals

The Auditor General for Scotland and the Accounts Commission have today criticised the city region deals for a

“lack of aims and objectives”.

What will the First Minister do to ensure that the billions of pounds that are committed to those directionless deals contribute to the transition to a zero-carbon economy rather than fund retrograde proposals such as the £120 million flyover at Sheriffhall in Edinburgh?

We welcome today’s report, because it also highlights the positive effect that city region and growth deals are having across Scotland in strengthening relationships between councils, the Government, business, universities and a range of other partners. We will, of course, pay close attention to the recommendations in the report so that we make sure that the governance and accountability are as strong as everybody would want them to be. The United Kingdom Government is a partner in city region and growth deals. I do not believe that Audit Scotland directed recommendations at it, because it is outwith Audit Scotland’s remit. It is really important to recognise the benefit that those deals are bringing and will bring to communities across Scotland. That is why the Scottish Government funds them so substantially.

Independence Referendum

The First Minister is fond of talking about democratic mandates, but does she recognise that, last month, 55 per cent of Scottish voters voted for candidates who were opposed to another independence referendum? [Interruption.] Members should listen to the Scottish voters. That level of opposition—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us hear the question, please.

That level of opposition has not changed one iota since 2014.

Mike Rumbles might not have intended it, but he has just made an argument for having a referendum so that we can put that to the test.

We stood on a mandate and a platform to offer an independence referendum and give people the choice. We scored a higher percentage of the vote in Scotland than the Tories did United Kingdom-wide, but they still claim that the election result is a mandate for their form of Brexit.

If Mike Rumbles is confident in his view—I suspect that he is not—that Scotland still does not want independence, he should have the courage of his convictions and put that to the test. The Liberal Democrats were, of course, perfectly happy to propose and argue for a second referendum on European Union membership, so perhaps they should look at the consistency of their own position before they stand up to ask questions of that nature in the chamber.

Erasmus Scheme

To ask the First Minister what impact ending the Erasmus scheme would have on Scotland’s further and higher education institutions. (S5F-03860)

Scotland does exceptionally well from Erasmus+. Proportionally, more students from Scotland than students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland study abroad under the programme, and more Erasmus students from across Europe come to Scotland than they do to anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

Ending our participation in Erasmus would be a huge step backwards. It would be a disaster for our universities, whose campuses enjoy the diversity and internationalism that the programme brings, and it would be a disaster for our students. The ability to study abroad, learn about new cultures, develop self-confidence and improve language skills should be championed and certainly not abandoned.

It is not surprising that Scotland does so well, given that Madame Ecosse—Winnie Ewing—was instrumental in establishing the Erasmus programme.

Boris Johnson has claimed that Erasmus will continue as normal. That is cold comfort, given that his party voted against continuing with the scheme during the progress of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. Does the First Minister agree that Scotland and our European neighbours reap huge cultural and educational benefits from Erasmus and that it is incumbent on the UK Government to legally guarantee the continuation without delay?

Yes, I agree. If the Tories’ assurances on Erasmus were worth anything, they would not have voted against legally protecting the scheme when they had the opportunity to do so last week. Safeguarding the future of our participation in Erasmus is essential. I believe that that has broad support around the whole country, including in the chamber.

It is important to note that the programme supports not just students but schools, youth groups and sports clubs. It provides them with the opportunity to learn and grow from time spent abroad. That is why the Scottish Government continues to put to the UK Government that it must urgently confirm its intention to participate and set out exactly how it will operate.

Our preference, of course, is for the whole of the UK to remain associated with Erasmus, but we are considering what routes are available that would allow Scotland to remain a member of it in the event that the UK Government chooses to abandon the programme.

Wild Salmon Stocks

5. Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what measures the Scottish Government is taking to address the reported crisis in wild salmon stocks. (S5F-03858)

This is Scotland’s year of coasts and waters. Last week, the Scottish Government announced £750,000 of funding for a project to investigate the migration of wild salmon on the west coast. That builds on an on-going programme of research and monitoring, which includes the Moray Firth tracking project. The project will help to develop a body of evidence on the complex challenges that salmon stocks face in Scotland.

In addition, we committed in the programme of government to the development of a wild salmon strategy. Working with key stakeholders, we will continue to do everything possible to safeguard the future of Scotland’s wild salmon.

At the start of the new salmon season, I reflect on the iconic status of wild salmon in Scotland’s history and culture and on the fact that angling still supports many jobs in rural Scotland. I welcome the measures that the First Minister mentioned, such as the £750,000 grant to track salmon on their journey across the north Atlantic. I hope that that will lead to a better understanding of the challenges that salmon face on their migratory routes.

Wild Atlantic salmon are a powerful symbol of the health of our rivers and oceans. The first task is to make the issue a conservation issue of the highest importance. Will the First Minister commit to working across international borders to ensure that we do not lose that valuable species? Does she believe that the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s recommendations on aquaculture are being actioned fast enough to ensure that salmon farms are environmentally sustainable as they continue to expand?

I agree with much of the thrust of that question. The issue is a challenge across the north Atlantic and is not unique to Scotland, but it is important that we take the actions that I have already set out.

I very much agree with Peter Chapman’s comments about the iconic status of wild salmon in Scotland as well as with his economic point. Angling makes a key contribution to many rural areas in Scotland.

On the conservation point, we already have a rigorous regime of statutory salmon conservation orders, which are refreshed annually. The 2020 conservation assessment takes account of the most recently available catch return statistics in determining the status of a number of rivers and river groupings. Regulations for the 2020 season were laid in December and will be considered by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

More broadly, we have continued the ban on the coastal netting of wild salmon around Scotland, which was introduced in 2016, and we will continue to carefully consider any recommendations that the committee makes.

Police Scotland (Compensation Payments)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that Police Scotland has spent £11.6 million in compensation over the last five years. (S5F-03853)

Civil claims arise out of a wide variety of situations and are resolved according to their own particular facts and circumstances. The Scottish Government expects all public bodies to conduct litigation with careful regard to the public purse. It is, of course, for Police Scotland to determine the level of compensation payments. Those are dealt with individually on a case-by-case basis, and with a view to securing best value.

The fact that police compensation claims doubled between 2015 and 2019 demonstrates the scale of the problems that exist throughout Police Scotland. A recent survey revealed that, on the front line, nearly three quarters of officers had gone to work feeling physically unwell and that more than a third face mental health challenges. On resigning as chair of the Scottish Police Authority, Susan Deacon described governance and accountability in policing as “fundamentally flawed”.

Does the First Minister agree that the Scottish Government should apologise to front-line officers for the disarray that currently exists in their working environment? Will she urgently set out what steps the Government will take to deal with the serious structural problems in Police Scotland?

I simply do not accept or agree with the general premise of that question. I certainly do not agree with James Kelly’s characterisation of the situation.

The Scottish Government has worked, and will continue to work, to support the police service and front-line police officers. We have protected the 1,000 additional police officers that we committed to provide when we came into office in 2007, when police numbers elsewhere in the United Kingdom have plummeted over a similar period. We are also protecting the police service’s revenue budget in real terms for the duration of the current session of Parliament. All those issues, including those that I have set out in the chamber in recent weeks in response, I think, to Willie Rennie, will be relevant in the on-going budget process. We and the police are taking a number of actions to support the mental health and wellbeing of police officers.

Committees of this Parliament have carried out reviews of the structure and governance of the police, and improvements have been and continue to be made. I think that our police service does a tremendously good job, and it deserves our deep gratitude for that.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will have a short suspension to allow members, ministers and people in the gallery to change seats for members’ business.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  

12:50 On resuming—