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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 16, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 16 December 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Edington Hospital, Portfolio Question Time, Parliamentary Procedures and Practices, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

Good afternoon. I remind members of the Covid-related measures that are in place, and that face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is portfolio questions on constitution, external affairs and culture. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary question, they should indicate so during the relevant question by pressing their request-to-speak button or entering the letter R in the chat function.

Independence Referendum

To ask the Scottish Government what preparations it is making for holding an independence referendum in the first half of the current parliamentary session. (S6O-00540)

On 7 September 2021, the First Minister announced, as part of the programme for government, that the Scottish Government will work to ensure that a legitimate and constitutional referendum can be held within the current parliamentary session and, if the Covid crisis is over, within the first half of the session.

Since the announcement in the PFG, work has begun to scope what will be required to take that commitment forward and to provide the people of Scotland with the information that they will need in order that they can make an informed choice about Scotland’s future.

Although independence supporters understand the need to wait until we are clear of Covid, the chaos and ineptitude of the United Kingdom’s shambolic Government, which is clearly determined to undermine the existing devolved settlement, have increased the urgency of Scotland’s need to re-emerge as an independent, sovereign state that is equal among nations. Will the cabinet secretary commit to making a statement to Parliament, as soon as we are through the pandemic, on the road map to an independence referendum and beyond?

I would be more than happy to make a statement to Parliament on the matter. The case for independence is a strong one, and this Government will present it openly, frankly and with confidence and ambition. An independent Scotland would have the power to make different choices, including about how we manage public health challenges with different budgetary options, and it could make the choices that are best suited to Scotland’s interests.

The Scottish Government has a clear mandate to hold a referendum, and it is the people of Scotland who will have the right to determine the future of Scotland.

Donald Cameron, who is joining us remotely, has a supplementary.

Given the serious concerns around the omicron variant, does the cabinet secretary agree that the very last thing that we should be doing today is discussing a second independence referendum? Does he further agree that all available financial resources that are currently earmarked for referendum planning should be immediately reprioritised and used in our collective effort against Covid?

No, I do not agree with the Conservative front-bench spokesman. As is so often the case, together with his colleagues, he ignores the result of the Scottish Parliament election. The people of Scotland elected a Scottish National Party-led Government, and it was elected with a mandate to hold a referendum.

In addition to the work that we are clearly doing on battling the Covid pandemic—our number 1 priority—we have the full panoply of Government work that we need to pursue. Part of that is making the preparations for the referendum that will take place when the time is right and the Covid pandemic has passed.

Karen Adam is joining us remotely.

When I stood for election in May this year, it was on a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum. I was elected by the people of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, who gave me that mandate. People want that choice presented to them.

People in the north-east have been putting money into the UK coffers for a long time, and they have now been hammered by the UK Government’s damaging Brexit and its mediocre, drop-in-the-ocean investment, which does not come close to what they have paid in for decades.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the people of the north-east are entitled to choose who decides their future, particularly given the circumstances around a fair and just transition?

Yes, I agree with my colleague. The member is entirely correct: the people of the north-east of Scotland and Scotland as a whole have a right to exercise a choice about independence.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting and facilitating a just transition. That is demonstrated by the just transition fund for the north-east and Moray: a 10-year, £500 million scheme that was announced earlier this year. We asked the UK Government to match that ambition, and to date it has not.

In October, the UK Government also failed to award the green light to the cluster led by the Acorn project at St Fergus. That is extremely disappointing for the north-east. Currently, the Scottish Government does not hold all the necessary legislative and regulatory levers to support the cluster, as they were retained by the UK Government. That decision jeopardises the opportunities to deliver a just transition in our energy sector and for Scotland to achieve our ambitions. It must be up to the people of Scotland to decide how Scotland is governed.

Question 2 was not lodged. Question 3 is from Rhoda Grant, who is joining us remotely.

Ms Grant, could you please ask your question again? We did not hear it. Thank you.

Creative Industries (Rural Areas)

Apologies, Presiding Officer. To ask the Scottish Government what support it provides to creative industries in rural areas, including in relation to young people wishing to pursue a career in this sector. (S6O-00542)

The Scottish Government supports the creative industries in rural areas through a range of activities that are delivered through our enterprise and skills agencies, as well as direct activity. The support includes XpoNorth, the year-round support programme for the Highlands and Islands, and skills training that is funded by the Scottish Government’s national transition training fund.

Young people also receive mentoring and support through LevelUp!, LevelUp! digital and the Treòir | Voar | Virr programme. From next year, support will also be available through the £20 million rural entrepreneurs fund.

The Inverness Creative Academy Wasps Studios provide affordable studio accommodation for those in the creative industries. However, there are few such opportunities throughout the Highlands and Islands. In the light of rural depopulation and the fact that the creative sector has been hit particularly hard by the effects of Covid, how does the Scottish Government plan to encourage similar ventures to ensure that young people who are working in creative industries are not forced to leave the area to pursue their careers?

Rhoda Grant raises a number of important points and the Inverness academy is an important example of the work that is being done. I am keen to have a bit more of a conversation with her about that work and how we might be able to better support such activity.

Rhoda Grant mentioned some of the impacts of Covid on the creative sector. Right now, the sector is suffering from the very real impacts of the omicron variant, not only in relation to the events sector but more broadly in relation to the cultural sector, which has been one of the worst hit by the impacts of the pandemic. I will certainly take away that example as a good example of the work that we are currently focusing on, which is about helping the sector to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Scotland is a sought-after destination for film and television production, so it is important that we continue to invest in developing the sector. On that basis, will the minister outline how the funding allocated in the Scottish budget will support the sector to grow?

That funding will help to build the skills, talent, support-system and studio infrastructure to enable our film and TV industry to capitalise on unprecedented interest in production in Scotland. It will also further develop our sustainable creative economy. The new £11.9 million Kelvin hall studio, which the cabinet secretary announced last week and which will be funded by the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council, is a prime example of the confidence that we have in Scotland’s fast-growing screen sector. Investing in Scottish skills and talent and opening up new opportunities are the best ways to ensure that our storytelling and creativity drive what is on the screen and represent us authentically, here and around the world.

Question 4 is from Joe FitzPatrick, who is joining us remotely.

International Relationships

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the steps that it is taking to strengthen Scotland’s international relationships. (S6O-00543)

Scotland is a proudly internationalist nation and embraces opportunities to strengthen our international relationships. Our new global affairs framework will be grounded in a values-based approach and will set out the basis on which the Scottish Government will prioritise our international activity. Our international offices enhance Scotland’s international reputation and create domestic opportunities. We have plans to strengthen our office in Brussels and open offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw in the coming years. We will also continue to use our growing international development fund and enhanced climate justice fund to work with partners in the global south.

Maintaining close relationships with our friends in Europe and across the world is integral to building a stronger, fairer and more prosperous Scotland. Will the cabinet secretary provide more of an update on the work of Scotland’s international offices in promoting Scottish interests overseas?

Our new offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw will promote Scotland’s interest and expertise in the Nordic and central European regions, attracting investment and supporting the exchange of knowledge and best practice. Our international presence creates domestic opportunities, broadens our horizons, attracts investment and ultimately benefits the people of Scotland. Our policies and actions abroad will be consistent with our focus on fairness and inclusion at home.

The programme for government emphasises our commitment to reviewing our approach to future policy and economic engagement, with a view to enhancing Scotland’s global reach and presence.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the US blockade in Cuba, which has been imposed for more than five decades, must now be ended to allow the Cuban economy to recover from the pandemic and trade freely with key markets?

I think that the question might be a bit wide of the initial one, but I note your enthusiasm to respond, cabinet secretary, so please do.

I am always pleased to respond.

Even US Administrations have pursued the normalisation of relations with Cuba over recent years, with the opening of trade and the ability for Cuban exiles to file remittances to relatives in Cuba. I am at the front of the queue to acknowledge the fact that the human rights record of the Cuban state, which a one-party Government runs, is not something that we would seek to support. However, I stand in support of improved relations with Cuba, while supporting the importance of human rights on that island.

An integral part of fostering good relations is to build trust with international partners. The decision of the Home Office to force European Union citizens with pre-settled status to re-apply for their rights to live and work in the United Kingdom is therefore an affront and, potentially, yet another breach of the withdrawal agreement to which the UK Government signed up.

What engagements has the Scottish Government had with the Home Office regarding the impact of that decision and what it will mean for EU citizens who have made Scotland their home?

The Scottish Government has always been clear that EU citizens should not have to apply to retain the rights that they enjoyed when the UK was a member state of the EU. The UK Government should have chosen a declaratory statement rather than force people to suffer the indignity of applying to the EU settlement scheme.

We have consistently said that all successful applicants to the EUSS should be granted permanent settled status rather than the less secure pre-settled status. We fully appreciate and support the position that the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements has taken and call on the UK Government to remove the requirement for pre-settled status holders to make a second, stressful application to the EUSS.

Robert Burns Cultural Assets (Dumfries and Galloway)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it has taken to support the promotion of cultural assets connected to Robert Burns in Dumfries and Galloway. (S6O-00544)

The Scottish Government has provided a £47,000 museum development fund grant through Museums Galleries Scotland this year to redevelop and relaunch the Future Museum website, which will benefit the Robert Burns Centre and Robert Burns house; a total of £28,941 of funding to the Robert Burns Ellisland Trust over the past 2 years; and £30,000 to support the Big Burns Supper festival in Dumfries in 2022, through EventScotland.

In addition, VisitScotland and EventScotland offer a range of promotional support to Burns-related attractions and events throughout Dumfries and Galloway to encourage tourism.

Calls to do more to capitalise on the cultural value of Burns are nothing new. In October 2019, we saw the publication of the Scottish Government funded Pittock report, following sustained calls from our former colleague Joan McAlpine, whose contribution on the issue is much missed in the chamber. What has been done to implement the report’s recommendations—particularly recommendation 5, which highlights the opportunities to promote more integrated Burns trails and the significant untapped potential of Ellisland farm and museum?

As Oliver Mundell alluded to, in May 2018 we commissioned Murray Pittock, of the centre for Robert Burns studies at the University of Glasgow, to produce the report. The report found that Robert Burns is worth in excess of £200 million a year to the Scottish economy—largely through tourism, but also through food and drink and culture spend. It talks about the brand value to Scotland of almost £140 million a year that is attributable to Robert Burns.

On the specifics of Oliver Mundell’s question, he asked, with reference to Murray Pittock’s report, whether the Government could do more with regard to Robert Burns and his impact on the economy. He mentioned my former colleague Joan McAlpine’s contribution in the chamber on the issue, which is one that, as an MSP, she was very involved in driving. Now, she is very much involved in the Robert Burns Ellisland Trust. If Oliver Mundell would like to meet me and Joan McAlpine, I would be more than happy to address the key actions that resulted from the report.

Global Recovery (Covid-19)

To ask the Scottish Government how its work with overseas partners is helping to tackle Covid-19 and support global recovery. (S6O-00545)

Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has allocated £3.5 million from our international development budget for Covid support in our partner countries of Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.

In addition, in September, we donated £11.2 million-worth of surplus NHS Scotland personal protective equipment kit to our three partner countries in Africa and provided £250,000 from our international development fund in contribution to the transportation costs for those materials.

In the next financial year, we will increase our international development fund by a further £1.5 million to £11.5 million, specifically for initiatives that respond to Covid-19 in our three African partner countries.

After announcing further funding for overseas aid last month, will the minister outline what more, if anything, is being planned to supplement the efforts to vaccinate people in our partner countries, in the light of the rise in Covid cases as a result of the omicron variant?

I thank Brian Whittle for his question. I do not know whether he was in the chamber two weeks ago when I made a statement that was focused on our Covid response in our partner countries. The Scottish Government’s Covid-19 pandemic response in those countries has been largely focused on preparing them for vaccination roll-out, rather than on the vaccination roll-out itself. That is because we are not members of the COVAX—Covid-19 vaccines global access—programme, so there are a number of challenges involved.

Last year, we conducted a review of our international development offer. I instructed that review because of the new reality that Covid presented in our international development roll-out. Last year, for example, we awarded £2 million to UNICEF to help with its Covid-19 response, including on vaccination preparedness, which I mentioned, and on delivery.

More recently, I visited the University of Glasgow with colleagues from Malawi’s Kamuzu University of Health Sciences to learn about some of the work that we are funding with it that is focused on genomic sequencing capacity in Malawi. That project brings together the expertise of Kamuzu and Glasgow universities to learn about how the virus intersects with the vaccine in our partner countries, in order to impact on the Covid-19 pandemic to the benefit of the Malawian and Scottish populations. The primary objective will be to determine the magnitude of the immune response to Covid-19 vaccines in the Malawian population.

Although we are not directly involved in vaccination, I hope that that will give Brian Whittle some assurance that we are very much involved in vaccination preparedness and in the wider learning around how the vaccine is developing in our partner countries, which we know is absolutely crucial in terms of what we face right now from new variants, particularly omicron.

The fight against climate change must always be our priority in supporting the global recovery. In April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released data showing that 21.5 million people have been displaced by climate change-related disasters since 2010. It pointed out that

“in addition to sudden disasters, climate change is a complex cause of food and water shortages, as well as difficulties in accessing natural resources.”

Statistics show that there could be a rise of more than 200,000 in the number of displaced people in the years to come. Those people and refugees are doubly hit by Covid-19 outbreaks, with limited access to healthcare and vaccination.

Mr Choudhury, could we have a question, please?

What steps is the Scottish Government taking to prevent further tragedies and to support refugees who are in need?

Foysol Choudhury is right to point to the impacts of climate change on developing countries in particular. He will know that the Scottish Government’s response is primarily through the climate justice fund, which sits with my colleague Màiri McAllan. Nonetheless, it is important to point out that the Scottish Government recently increased that fund.

Additionally, we have increased our funding for loss and damage with a new fund that is specifically available for our partner countries to tackle the loss and damage aspects of climate change impacts.

Foysol Choudhury asked how we can respond to pandemics and the challenges that are presented by climate change in our partner countries. We primarily offer assistance through our humanitarian emergency fund. He might be aware that, earlier this week, we announced funding for the roll-out of support in Afghanistan, which is, of course, facing a huge challenge. That work is being addressed through use of the humanitarian emergency fund, but there is more of a link with Màiri McAllan’s ministerial responsibilities in respect of the climate justice fund.

However, it is important that we have policy coherence on those issues, so I will meet Ms McAllan in January to discuss how we can link our international development work with our climate justice fund.

I welcome the compassionate approach to international co-operation and development that the Scottish Government has pursued in recent years. Can the minister provide any further detail about how Scotland’s ambition to enhance its reputation as a good global citizen will be served by the 2022-23 Scottish budget?

International development is a key part of Scotland’s global contribution within the international community. It encompasses our historical and contemporary core values of fairness and equality. The increase to our international development fund from £10 million to £11.5 million during the next financial year—in contrast with the UK Government, which is cutting development funding—is a clear indication of this Government’s ambition to further enhance Scotland’s reputation as a good global citizen.

Cultural Infrastructure

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the investment it is making in Scotland’s cultural infrastructure. (S6O-00546)

I am pleased to be given the opportunity to do that.

The Scottish Government is investing £14.2 million in the current financial year in a range of capital projects, including the Scottish national gallery refurbishment and the Museum of Flight. As I announced on 9 December, we are committing a further £2 million to support cultural recovery in the museums and galleries sector, including £1 million for the Scottish Crannog Centre and a further £1 million for the sector to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. The 2022-23 budget that was published on 9 December allocates £30 million to my portfolio for capital expenditure to support a range of infrastructure projects.

The 19th century A-listed Aberdeen art gallery recently won the 2021 Doolan award for Scotland’s best building after a transformational development project. It has, however, experienced significant damage to its exterior by the urban gull population. In the north-east, gulls do not just attack people; their droppings are a persistent problem. What action is the Scottish Government taking with local authorities and Historic Environment Scotland to conserve our building heritage and protect it from such pests?

As somebody who lived in Aberdeen for four years while studying in that great city, I understand the dangers that Tess White is describing. I also recognise the point that she makes about the challenge to our built infrastructure, both within the stock that comes under Historic Environment Scotland and more generally.

Given that Tess White has asked a specific question without advance notice, I will be happy to write back to her so that she has the fullest information that I can provide. I appreciate that she and her colleagues will want to be sure that as much as possible is being done to protect our historic environment across Scotland.

In the light of the new restrictions that were announced after last week’s budget, will the Scottish Government commit to ensuring that future funding criteria do not require venues and organisations to exhaust their reserves, as they will be critical in enabling the sector to get through the next few months and to rebuild for the future?

I welcome the opportunity that is given by Sarah Boyack’s question to comment briefly on the situation in which we find ourselves.

We are in a very fast-moving situation because of the omicron variant of Covid-19. The Government is doing everything possible, within the constraints of the devolution settlement and finance, to find the resources that we want to support the culture and arts sector.

As we come out of the pandemic, are there lessons to be learned about how finances can be managed during the type of challenging situation that we are currently living through? There is no doubt that lessons can be learned, but I assure Sarah Boyack that I, Jenny Gilruth and other colleagues in the Scottish Government are doing everything that we can to secure funding to support the culture and arts sector, as we get through the pandemic.

Question 8 comes from Claire Baker, who joins us remotely.

Live Performance Sector

To ask the Scottish Government how it is engaging with, and investing in, the live performance sector to support its recovery. (S6O-00547)

Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has provided £175 million of financial support to the culture, heritage and events sector. That recognises the significant impact that the pandemic has had, and continues to have, on the live performance sector.

We are committed to working with the sector and our public bodies to support the sector’s recovery. We have also continued to engage with the national performing companies and commercial music stakeholders.

Since I lodged my question last week, the situation has changed from one of recovery to one of crisis. The income from the festive season is particularly important for the live performance sector. The Byre theatre in St Andrews has already halted its pantomime, as well as festive film screenings. Refunds are being issued, but those costs will need to be covered.

I appreciate that the current situation is very challenging, but what is the minister’s understanding of the compensation that can be provided for closures and cancellations, whether through support from Government or through insurance policies, to support the sector? What discussions is she currently engaged in?

I thank Claire Baker for her very timely question. She is absolutely right to point to the very real challenges that exist in relation to live performances, particularly given where the culture sector currently finds itself.

It is important to remember that the culture sector did not fully recover from the impact of the previous lockdown. In May 2020, the gross domestic product for the arts, culture and recreation sector had decreased by 56 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. The sector has still not fully recovered: the latest statistics, which are for September of this year, show that GDP for the sector was 12 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels, whereas for the economy overall it was just 1 per cent lower.

Although the sector currently remains open, I am alive to the challenge that exists in terms of audience confidence. On Tuesday, I met the Federation of Scottish Theatre. Yesterday, I met the Scottish commercial music industry task force and, later this afternoon, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture will meet stakeholders. As Ms Baker will know, the First Minister confirmed on Tuesday that further funding, to the end that she identified, will be forthcoming.

However, there is a limit to that support. It is also important to remember that the arts and culture organisations in Scotland, unlike organisations in England, have still not received the full amount of outstanding culture consequentials that were promised to the sector in March. As the Scottish commercial music industry task force told me yesterday, cultural organisations in England can still apply to the arts recovery fund until the end of January. I do not begrudge organisations and venues in England having access to that funding; all I ask is that the Treasury reimburse organisations in the Scottish culture sector on an equal basis.

With regard to Ms Baker’s questions on compensation for closure, I hope that I have reassured her that the Scottish Government is doing all that it can do to look at what additional funding might be available for the sector. However, there will be a limit to that. We really need the UK Government to step up and provide the outstanding consequentials that are due to the Scottish culture sector.