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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 16, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 16 June 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Men’s Sheds, Point of Order, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Role of Incineration in Waste Hierarchy, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The next item of business is portfolio question time, on constitution, external affairs and culture.


Historic Environment Scotland Assets (Cowdenbeath)

To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Historic Environment Scotland about the reopening of assets in the Cowdenbeath constituency. (S6O-01231)

I note Annabelle Ewing’s swift transition, Presiding Officer.

I have regular discussions with Historic Environment Scotland about the health and safety challenges of Scotland’s properties in care. As regards the Cowdenbeath constituency, I understand that the main castle area of Aberdour castle will remain fenced until a tactile inspection has been completed. However, Historic Environment Scotland aims to have some areas at the site reopened to the public as soon as possible. Historic Environment Scotland would be more than happy to offer Annabelle Ewing a site visit to learn at first hand from its experts about the situation there.

I thank the minister for that helpful answer. In fact, it is not just parts of Aberdour castle that are closed to the public and have been so since the start of the pandemic but Inchcolm abbey and St Bridget’s kirk in Dalgety Bay. Obviously, that is impacting negatively on the local economy. Although I would, of course, like to take up the opportunity to meet Historic Environment Scotland. I also ask the minister to use his good offices to ensure that all three sites are opened as soon as possible and to provide a bit of clarity to what “as soon as possible” might mean.

I congratulate Annabelle Ewing on the way in which she is, quite rightly, advocating on behalf of her constituents and her constituency—I would expect nothing less of her.

I recognise the impact on local businesses and communities of access restrictions on historic sites, which Annabelle Ewing has rightly outlined, and I absolutely share the frustrations of members and our constituents regarding continued closures. As I am sure that we all accept, the safety of visitors and HES staff must take priority, and I will pass the member’s specific concerns, including those about community engagement, to Historic Environment Scotland.

HES is working hard to prioritise sites effectively in the inspection schedule and to keep public access in place where it is safe to do so. I am pleased to see that some sites, such as, this week, Doune castle, have now partially opened, but I recognise that there is further to go in the member’s constituency.


Scottish Government Overseas Offices

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of its overseas offices. (S6O-01232)

Scotland’s international network creates domestic opportunities, attracts investment and ultimately benefits the people of Scotland. I am pleased to see, in the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s recent report on the Scottish Government’s international work, cross-party enthusiasm for the excellent job that Scotland’s international offices do day to day. Building on my response to the committee’s report on 6 June, I will follow up with the committee in the coming weeks in greater detail on the work that our international offices are currently doing and what they will be focused on in the months ahead.

Although I recognise that the Scottish Government’s overseas offices perform a function in seeking to promote Scottish businesses and culture abroad, the fact is that the Scottish National Party Government appears to be misusing that resource to pursue a foreign policy that is distinct from the rest of the United Kingdom’s and discuss independence with foreign Governments, all at taxpayers’ expense. Will the cabinet secretary confirm whether he has met foreign Governments to discuss independence and, if so, on how many occasions he has done that?

Alexander Burnett would benefit from visiting some of the offices. I do not know whether he has been to any or spoken to any of the staff in them and satisfied himself about what they have been doing. They are highly professional representatives of Scotland. They benefit the economy of Scotland on inward investment, and they promote the culture of Scotland and Scotland’s relations with the rest of the world. They do a tremendous job.

If I as cabinet secretary or other ministers of the Scottish Government hold conversations with others, of course we discuss the Government’s policy. That is what we have been elected to do. The member should not seek to undermine the professionalism and effectiveness of Scottish Government offices around the world. It really is not worthy of him.

The latest Ernst & Young attractiveness survey Scotland showed Scotland leading the way in the UK when it comes to securing foreign direct investment in spite of the significant challenges posed by Brexit and the pandemic. Given the findings of the report, can the cabinet secretary provide any further information about the work that the Government’s international offices are undertaking to attract investment to Scotland?

I thank Paul McLennan for that sensible question. The EY results are fantastic for Scotland and underline the strength of our inward investment offer, with the growth in Scotland’s FDI performance outpacing that of Europe and the rest of the UK.

Scotland has maintained its position as the UK’s most attractive FDI location outside London for nine of the past 11 years and for the seventh year running. The Scottish Government and its delivery partners, Scottish Development International and Scottish Enterprise, will continue to focus support on attracting the high-quality inward investment required to deliver our ambitions in policy areas such as energy transition, focusing on ScotWind, hydrogen and the decarbonisation of transport. Scotland’s international network is vital in supporting that work. The Scottish Government will continue to promote and showcase our world-leading capabilities on the international stage at events such as the Dubai expo, the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—and the world forum for FDI.


Census 2022

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on Scotland’s census 2022. (S6O-01233)

Following the end of the census collection period, National Records of Scotland is now focused on planned post-collection quality control and assurance work, which includes the census coverage survey, the second-largest social research exercise in Scotland after the census itself. NRS is confident that the national return rate and coverage across the country, coupled with the aforementioned post-collection quality control and assurance work, will provide a credible, high-quality census output. The agency is working with a number of statisticians and global experts in census and administrative data to help to steer its statistical and methodological work over the next few months.

I sincerely thank the cabinet secretary, who is a very important MSP indeed, for providing a humble member such as me with that answer.

With trains, ferries, Rangers prosecutions, trams, Prestwick, Burntisland Fabrications, national health service disasters, policing scandals and now the Scottish National Party’s shambolic census, hard-working Scots always end up footing the bill for the SNP’s world-beating incompetence. Will the cabinet secretary tell them whether he or anyone else will pay the price for the £30 million census debacle?

The member must forgive me, but I am not sure which question he was talking to in his peroration.

The increase in census costs to raise the return rate from the 70s to 88 per cent constituted 4 per cent of the budget for the census round. Frankly, that is—relatively speaking—an affordable and reasonable amount to spend on raising the census return rate to provide what the experts have described as a “solid foundation”.

Given that all public services rely on a census return rate that provides such a solid foundation, we should all take the opportunity to thank the 2.3 million households that took part in the census and the great many people who worked on it, including those who worked as enumerators, of whom there were more than 1,000, particularly in the last month, to ensure our securing of a “solid foundation”, which independent international experts have described the census as being.

Although some of the rhetoric in the chamber will draw attention away from this fact, it is important to acknowledge, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, that 2.3 million households returned the census. That is an enormous proportion of the population. The data that has been collected from that immense exercise will deliver real and tangible advances in the delivery of local public services.

Can the cabinet secretary put on record some examples of how census data directly translates into inclusive service planning for Scotland’s communities?

The census remains the best way to gather vital information that Government, councils, the national health service and a range of users in the public, private and third sectors need. The results help local authorities, businesses and Government to plan a wide range of vital public services to improve the lives of people who live and work in Scotland.

The information that has been collected from the census helps us to understand who stays in Scotland, who they stay with and what sort of accommodation they stay in, which allows decisions to be made about where money should be spent in local communities on things such as schools where our children are educated, roads that we drive on every day and healthcare that we rely on. The census is a very important piece of work, and I am delighted that it has reached the return rate that it has, given the challenges that were faced through the census collection period.


Independence (Currency)

To ask the Scottish Government what its policy is for the currency of an independent Scotland. (S6O-01234)

Scotland will continue to use the pound sterling at the point of independence, establishing an independent Scottish currency as soon as is practicably possible through a careful, managed and responsible transition when an independent Scottish Parliament chooses to do so.

I, too, am honoured that the minister has felt able to answer my question.

In 2014, the policy of the Scottish National Party was a monetary union. Now, Ian Blackford wants sterlingisation, but the SNP conference rejected the leadership’s position, describing it as a “dangerous experiment”. Coalition partner Lorna Slater said that it would be “catastrophic”. Patrick Harvie said that it would prevent Scotland from joining the European Union. Alex Salmond wants a Scottish pound. Alyn Smith wants the euro. The independence movement is like two bald bankers fighting over a 50p. If they cannot agree on the currency, why on earth should the public?

There is literally no answer that I could give to Willie Rennie that would satisfy him. We are on different sides of the independence debate.

If we cannot agree on that, it would, at least, be nice for us to be able to agree, as democrats, that the issue is one on which the people should be able to decide.


United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

To ask the Scottish Government what its position is, regarding the potential impact on Scotland, on the upcoming first meeting of states parties to the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna. (S6O-01235)

The Scottish Government is on record supporting the principles of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and has welcomed countries such as Ireland ratifying the treaty.

However, Scotland will not be able to share its views and support like-minded partners at the first meeting of the states parties to the treaty in Vienna later this month, which is due to be opened by the United Nations secretary general. Scotland is not a sovereign independent country—yet. The United Kingdom Government’s opposition to the treaty means that it has chosen not to attend as an observer. Only with independence can Scotland’s interests be properly represented on the international stage.

It is long established that an independent Scotland will be free of nuclear weapons on the basis that such indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction and mass murder are morally abhorrent and should in no circumstances be used.

Despite the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons having made the use and stockpiling of such weapons illegal, the UK Government, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, is not engaging in next week’s first meeting of states parties in Vienna. I will be attending, as part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ parliamentarians for the TPNW delegation, thereby ensuring that a Scottish voice and our position on this consequential matter can be heard.

Will the cabinet secretary advise how quickly Scotland will sign up to the TPNW in the event of its becoming an independent country?

I share my colleague’s disappointment that the UK Government is not engaging with this important process. I understand that a number of countries that are not parties to the treaty, including NATO member states, will be attending as observers. I welcome that commitment to multilateralism and a willingness to engage on these crucial issues. I am also glad to hear that the member will join a delegation of parliamentarians in Vienna.

As the First Minister and I have said this week, the Scottish Government will be publishing further papers setting out the prospectus for independence, which will include our position on treaties.


Local Culture (Economic Contribution)

To ask the Scottish Government what contribution local culture, evidenced in museums such as the Trimontium Museum in Melrose and the National Mining Museum Scotland in Newtongrange, makes to the local and wider Scottish economy. (S6O-01236)

The Trimontium Museum and the National Mining Museum are fine examples of how the cultural sector can contribute to both the local and wider economies.

I recently attended the official opening of the refurbished Trimontium Museum and viewed its fine collection of items from the Roman period and the iron age. I was also able to thank the trustees for their incredible work there. I look forward to visiting the National Mining Museum, which is home to around 95,000 items of national significance and which attracts 48,000 visitors each year and generates £1.3 million for the local economy.

The Scottish Government continues to provide core funding to Museums Galleries Scotland, which supports 430 museums and galleries across Scotland.

Very small communities such as that in Tweedsmuir, which is high in the Borders hills, can make a huge difference to the regeneration of their areas. Is the minister aware of the regeneration of the Crook Inn, which closed in 2006 after more than 400 years of continuous operation? The work is being done in phases, the first of which is the establishment of the Wee Crook, a licensed bistro, which will certainly boost the local economy. Will he accept my invitation to see the project for himself—not necessarily to go to the licensed bit, but just to visit the project?

I am never spared the fun with Christine Grahame. In response to a previous question from her, I took up her invitation to go to Trimontium. I was grateful to accept her hospitality and to go along to the reopening with her on that special occasion. I agree that historic properties such as the Crook Inn in Tweedsmuir are really important to local heritage and a community’s sense of place. If Christine Grahame would like to write to me with further details, I will be more than happy to consider her very generous invitation. I look forward to learning more about the restoration of that historic building and the tremendous work that has been undertaken by the local community.

Christine Grahame makes a good point, but, all too often, spending on culture is the first thing that councils cut when funds are tight. For example, in Midlothian, which is in Christine Grahame’s constituency, the Scottish National Party-run council has cut the funding for museums and galleries from £83,000 in 2016-17 to £10,000 in 2020-21. It is the same story in other SNP council areas, such as East Ayrshire and Glasgow. How does the minister expect our culture sector to grow locally when SNP councils are slashing spending on culture across Scotland?

With reference to the Trimontium Museum in Melrose and the National Mining Museum in Newtongrange, I have regular conversations with local authority culture conveners. I hope to see them again when they are reappointed in order that we can take a partnership approach to ensuring that our culture offering is strong and that we are able to work together to achieve our shared priority of people being able to enjoy our cultural facilities not only for the wellbeing of those communities, but for our own personal wellbeing as we recover from the pandemic.


European Countries (Relationships)

To ask the Scottish Government what priority it attaches to developing relationships with other European countries. (S6O-01237)

The Scottish Government attaches a high priority to developing relationships with other European countries, which is why we want to rejoin the European Union. That will be made possible only by Scotland becoming an independent country.

Our recently published “Scotland’s Global Affairs Framework” sets out the values and principles that underpin the Scottish Government’s international work and the basis on which the Scottish Government will prioritise its European and wider international activity.

The Scottish Government will continue to take a positive and proactive role in engaging with European partners on shared challenges and opportunities where Scotland is well placed to offer expertise and share best practice.

The Erasmus programme is a fantastic initiative that allowed us to forge relationships with our European friends and opened the world for Scottish universities and Scottish students. It was a needless casualty of Brexit. However, the Welsh Government has already committed £65 million to its scheme, with young people from Wales preparing to go abroad from September. Assuming that he believes that I have a sufficient electoral mandate, I ask the cabinet secretary to confirm whether the Scottish scheme will be up and running for the next academic year or whether thousands of young Scots will continue to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

I thank Liam McArthur for that follow-up question. As I have indicated in answer to his colleague from North East Fife, the loss of the Erasmus programme is, indeed, a tragedy. Its replacement has been a matter of discussion between the Scottish Government and the European Commission, and we will continue to make progress on that. I hope—and I think—that we all agree that we need to do everything that we can to ensure that young people from Scotland and young people from the European continent are able to continue in the educational exchange that existed while we were part of the European Union.

That might give Liam McArthur cause to consider that the best future for Scotland is in re-establishing all the programmes that were established with the European Union, and the only way of doing that is by rejoining the European Union. I would be delighted to welcome him if he were to join that campaign.

One of the best ways to develop relationships with European countries is through educational ties. When my colleagues have asked the Scottish Government recently about delays to the replacement for Erasmus, they have instead been told about the plan for Scotland to rejoin the EU. While the Scottish Government waits for that theoretical solution, thousands of very real students are missing out on educational opportunities in Europe. The Scottish Government is limiting the opportunities of a generation with its gamble on future EU membership, which it cannot guarantee. Why will the Scottish Government not follow the example of the Welsh Labour Government and bring forward a replacement for Erasmus now?

I think that it was only this week that we had confirmation from the British Labour Party that it is not going to seek membership of the European Union for the United Kingdom. That disappoints a great many people, perhaps including some of Foysol Choudhury’s colleagues—and perhaps even him.

I have already given an answer to his Liberal Democrat colleague in relation to the Erasmus scheme, in particular.

Foysol Choudhury talked about Scotland rejoining the European Union and “theoretical” opportunities. I say to him that this is not a theoretical opportunity. If one is a member state of the European Union, one can with great ease play a full part in the Erasmus programme. Perhaps he is one of those on the Labour benches who actually represent the 30 per cent of Labour voters who are in favour of Scottish independence, and he can join us in the campaign when the referendum is under way.


Independence Referendum (Legal Advice)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it has now published all the legal advice it has received in relation to a second independence referendum. (S6O-01238)

We have released the legal advice required under the commissioner’s decision, as it does not merit the time and expense required for an appeal. Although we disagree with the decision, we have published precisely what the commissioner specified. In line with the ministerial code, I do not intend to comment on the content of other legal advice.

I am kind of grateful for that reply, but the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ruling about this could not have been clearer. In it, he states:

“a second independence referendum in Scotland is of significant public interest for a substantial portion of the Scottish population.”

He goes on to say that the request to release the information

“should be considered one of the exceptional circumstances which outweighs the in-built public interest in maintaining the exemption”

on confidentiality. However, he was not talking about the legal advice as to whether the Government could road test a question with the Electoral Commission; he was talking about the central legality around the propositions that are open to the Scottish Government in pursuing its objective of holding an independence referendum next year. Does the cabinet secretary not realise that, by withholding the legal advice on that central legality, he is holding not only the Scottish Information Commissioner but this Parliament in contempt?

As I have already made clear, in line with the ministerial code, I do not intend to comment on the content of other legal advice. Incidentally, that position has been held by Liberal Democrat ministers in this Parliament and by Liberal Democrat ministers at Westminster. I have no plans to depart from that position today.