Meeting date: Thursday, April 19, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 19 April 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Royal Air Force (Centenary), Safe Injection Facilities, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Royal Air Force (Centenary)
- Safe Injection Facilities
- Decision Time
First Minister’s Question Time
No representative of the Scottish Conservative Party or consultant who works for it has ever met the disgraced data-harvesting company Cambridge Analytica or its parent company. [Interruption.] The Scottish National Party does not like it, but, if the question was good enough for Ian Blackford to ask at Prime Minister’s questions, it is good enough for me to ask at First Minister’s question time. Can the First Minister say the same about the Scottish Government and the SNP?
As we said earlier this week, a consultant who was working for the SNP met Cambridge Analytica in February 2016. However, the SNP has never worked with Cambridge Analytica. We have never hired the company or paid it any money to do any work for us, which is surely the fundamental point.
In spite of what Ruth Davidson has said, I am not sure whether the Conservative Party as a whole—or, indeed, the United Kingdom Conservative Government—can say the same. We know that the links between Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories, are legion. For example, a former chairman of Oxford West and Abingdon Conservative Association used to run SCL, and there are reports that he is now the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica. Furthermore, SCL’s founding chairman was a former Tory MP, and a director of the company donated more than £700,000 to the Conservative Party.
The UK Government has reportedly had a close working relationship with SCL. The Ministry of Defence paid the company £200,000 for carrying out two separate projects. According to The Guardian, SCL Group was granted by the Ministry of Defence what is called list X status, which means that it can access secret documents. The MOD also paid more than £40,000 to a branch of SCL for data analytics. It has been reported—I can say only what has been reported—that a Cambridge Analytica executive advised the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on lessons that were gleaned from the Trump election campaign. We also know that Alexander Nix, who is the former CEO of Cambridge Analytica, claimed in a letter to, I think, a foreign Government back in 2010 that he had worked with the UK Conservative Party.
I can say two things categorically: the SNP has never worked with Cambridge Analytica, and the Scottish Government has never worked with Cambridge Analytica. I am not sure whether the Conservative Party or the UK Government can say the same.
If the First Minister had bothered to listen to my first question, she would know that the party that I am in charge of has never held any meetings or had any contact with Cambridge Analytica.
Let us get back to the party that she is in charge of, and let us review what we have found out this week. A former Cambridge Analytica director revealed that the SNP had, indeed, met the firm. I know that the SNP has raised sanctimony to an art form, but what stinks here is the reek of hypocrisy. When it comes to the dealings that others have had with Cambridge Analytica, the First Minister and her party have spent weeks demanding full transparency. However, when it comes to the SNP, it took a whistleblower giving evidence to a parliamentary committee before facts began to be dragged out into the open.
The First Minister has demanded full transparency of others but, hand on heart, can she really say that the SNP has shown it this week?
I think that Ruth Davidson has missed something, because Alexander Nix, the former chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, told a Westminster committee—not this week, but in February—in response to a question about companies pitching for work:
“It is not uncommon for us to go and speak to political parties. Indeed, in this country I think I have spoken with every political party ... Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, SNP, Conservatives”.
Therefore, Cambridge Analytica has pitched to every political party.
The SNP has been very clear in saying that Cambridge Analytica tried to sell us its services—as I said, that was in the early part of 2016, when a meeting took place. However, back then, before any of the concerns that we are talking about now had come to light, the SNP decided that it was not a company that we wanted to work with. We judged Cambridge Analytica to be “a bunch of cowboys”. If the UK Government had done that, it might not have some of the links that I have read out.
But, First Minister, it was not the UK Conservative Party that was caught out spreading allegations about others—that was all on you.
Let us put the First Minister’s commitment to transparency to the test. Yesterday, she was asked directly when the meeting—or meetings—took place and who attended them, and her party’s leader at Westminster was asked likewise. She failed to answer, and he claims that he never knew. We have got a little bit further today, so let us get answers to those questions. Who was the SNP consultant who held a meeting with Cambridge Analytica? When in February did the meeting take place? Where did it take place? Those are very simple questions for someone who is committed to full transparency.
If Ruth Davidson had listened, she would have heard me say that the meeting took place in February 2016. I am not going to name somebody who was working as a consultant for the SNP, because they have done nothing wrong. There has been no wrongdoing. I am here to answer questions on behalf of the Scottish Government, but I am happy to answer questions on behalf of the SNP. I am the leader of the party, and I am not going to name somebody who was working on behalf of the SNP and who has done nothing wrong in order that a witch hunt can be carried out.
Given that we are talking about transparency, perhaps Ruth Davidson can answer some of the points about the connection between the Conservative Party and Cambridge Analytica. She says that the Conservatives have not done a range of things, but we know—certainly, it has been reported—that the Conservative Party has accepted donations from a director of the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. Does Ruth Davidson think that that is okay?
I will mention another connection that is perhaps closer to home for Ruth Davidson. Another company that is reported to have very close links with Cambridge Analytica is Aggregate IQ. We should remember that it was the Constitutional Research Council—a group run by a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party—that gave a donation to the Democratic Unionist Party’s Brexit campaign. We still do not know the source of that donation, but we know that some of it was spent on Aggregate IQ, which has links with Cambridge Analytica.
If Ruth Davidson wants to be transparent, will she tell us the source of the donation that was procured by a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Tory party? I think that it is the Conservative Party and the UK Government that are mired in links to Cambridge Analytica and its various associates. The SNP has never done any work with them because, unlike the Conservatives and the UK Government, when we met them, we realised that they were “a bunch of cowboys”. If only Ruth Davidson’s colleagues had done the same.
Let us get back to questions to the First Minister. Transparency SNP-style is to fling out allegations at opponents, fail to set out your own record, deny that you know anything about it and, when you are caught out, give half-answers to legitimate questions. The First Minister says that she has been up front and transparent, but, given everything that the SNP has done over the past month, including keeping its Westminster leader in the dark, to the rest of us it just looks pretty shifty.
Ruth Davidson has said that all the links that I read out between those companies and the Conservative Party or the UK Government are allegations. I challenge her, when she has had the opportunity to review the Official Report, to come back and tell me which of the links that I have set out between her colleagues and those companies are untrue.
With regard to the SNP, let us cut to the chase and get to the nub of the matter. Yes, two years ago, before the concerns that we are talking about now had come to light, somebody had a meeting with Cambridge Analytica on behalf of the SNP. We decided that we did not want to do any work with the company. As a result, we have never hired it, we have never paid it any money and it has never done any work for the SNP or the Scottish Government. The same cannot be said of the UK Government, and I do not know for sure whether the same can be said of the Conservative Party.
Ruth Davidson started her last question by saying, “Let’s get back to First Minister’s questions.” Well, let us get back to the responsibilities of the First Minister and the Scottish Government. Here are some of the things that Ruth Davidson could have come to the chamber and asked me about today. She could have asked me about the work to save BiFab. She could have asked me about the extra money that was announced yesterday for farmers, to help them with the impact of recent weather. She could have asked me about the extra money for the initiative to combat domestic abuse that was announced this week. She could have asked me about the update report on getting broadband to households across the country. She could have asked me about the major expansion of childcare training places that has been announced in the past few days. However, because Ruth Davidson does not have a leg to stand on with regard to any of those issues, all that she can do is come to the chamber and spread baseless smears.
I think that it is the Conservative Party and the UK Government that have questions to answer, and I look forward to her response with regard to which of the links that I set out is not true.
I recognise the level of political interest in the subject, so I will let the matter go in this case. However, we should try to stick to the First Minister’s responsibilities at First Minister’s question time—that goes for both sides.
NHS Tayside (Finances)
This morning, the Auditor General told Parliament’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee that repeated warnings about the finances of NHS Tayside were not taken seriously. Is the Auditor General wrong?
I do not think that it is the case that the Scottish Government has not worked hard to support NHS Tayside. I heard the Auditor General—I think that this is the comment that Richard Leonard is referring to—refer to a statement, from a previous report, about use of endowment funds. There was certainly a line in one of the previous reports recording the fact of the transfer of endowment funds. The point that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has made, and which I make again today, is that at no point was that flagged up to the Scottish Government as a concern. If it had been, action would have been taken at that time.
The health secretary has exercised her ministerial power, for the right reasons and in the right way, to make sure that the leadership of NHS Tayside is strengthened, and so that it can go on delivering high-quality patient care while undertaking the necessary transformation in its services.
Richard Leonard has at least come to the chamber with a genuine, serious and legitimate issue that is within the responsibilities of the First Minister. However, whatever our differences of opinion about the matter, I hope that he will support the action that the health secretary has rightly taken.
The situation at NHS Tayside did not come as a surprise to anyone who was paying attention. Year after year, the health board sought bail-outs, year after year Audit Scotland warned that that was not sustainable, and year after year the Scottish Government has been in denial about the scale of the problem.
Between repaying loans, repaying the endowment fund and finding other efficiency savings, NHS Tayside now needs to make more than £200 million of cuts over the next five years. Does the First Minister agree that that will mean even longer waiting times and even more cancelled operations for the people of Tayside?
No, I do not agree. The purpose of the Scottish Government providing brokerage is to ensure that patient services are not affected as the board undertakes its transformation plans.
I also do not agree with Richard Leonard’s characterisation of the Scottish Government’s role. There have been issues in Tayside for some time: let me run through the steps that the Scottish Government and the health secretary have taken.
When the five-year transformation plan was launched in 2015-16, the Scottish Government put in place specific support arrangements. In March 2017, it appointed Professor Lewis Ritchie to chair an assurance and advisory group. In June 2017, when Lewis Ritchie produced his first report, the Scottish Government established a transformation support team to provide intensive support for the board between July and December 2017. In February this year, we had the second report of the assurance and advisory group. Shortly after that, the issue of e-health funding came to light. At that point, Grant Thornton UK LLP was appointed by the health secretary to look into that in detail. That report has been published for Parliament. Since the issue of the endowment fund came to light, the health secretary has, of course, taken action.
At every stage, there has been support for NHS Tayside, but when issues culminated as they did, the health secretary rightly decided that the leadership of the board required to be strengthened. That is why steps have been taken in the past two weeks.
None of the steps that have been taken have worked. A health board is raiding charity funds to pay the bills—and that is after fiddling the accounts. What makes it even worse is that that is all happening in Tayside, under the nose of the health secretary, who is the member of the Scottish Parliament for Dundee City East. It is too late for Shona Robison to be an honest broker in the NHS Tayside affair. Will the First Minister reflect on that and face up to the fact that the time has come for her health secretary to go?
I will continue to give my support, as First Minister, to the job that the health secretary is doing to strengthen the leadership of the NHS Tayside board with the new chief executive and chair that have been put in place, and to ensure that that board has support in undertaking the transformation that it needs to undertake. That is what we will continue to focus on.
In the final analysis, it is services to patients that are important. Actually, NHS Tayside provides a very high level of patient service, and our job—the health secretary’s and mine—is to ensure that it continues to do that. I say with the greatest respect to Richard Leonard that that is what the health secretary and I will continue to focus on.
There are a number of supplementaries.
Out-of-hours General Practitioner Services (Fife)
“Monday the 9th of April marked the first time in Glenrothes’s 70 year history that there was no GP on duty at night caring for the town.”
Those are the words of Dr Bob Grant, who is a retired local general practitioner. Fife’s health and social care partnership’s decision to close out-of-hours provision means that people from Glenrothes, Dunfermline and St Andrews are now being made to travel to Kirkcaldy. Does the First Minister share my concerns about the complete absence of public consultation, the costs that that will place on individuals who do not have access to a vehicle, and the resource burden that that move directly forces on staff at the Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy?
I thank Jenny Gilruth for raising an important local issue.
Recent changes to the out-of-hours primary care services in Fife are a short-term measure to ensure that appropriate levels of patient safety are maintained. I understand that a public consultation on a full range of longer-term options, including maintaining services at the existing four out-of-hours centres, will begin in June. Of course, overnight primary care emergency services will still be available at Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy. I encourage not just Jenny Gilruth and other Fife members but the local population in Fife to ensure that they make their views known in that public consultation, when it starts.
Mossmorran Ethylene Plant
Last night, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued a final warning to the operators of the Mossmorran ethylene plant, almost a year after surrounding communities were kept awake for days by noise and light pollution caused by flaring. There have been even more incidents of illegal flaring in recent months. What is the First Minister’s definition of a final warning?
SEPA is an independent regulatory body, and it is for it to set out what actions it will take when warnings that it issues are not complied with. We have discussed the issue in the chamber before, and I absolutely understand the concerns of local people about Mossmorran and the issues that have caused those concerns.
However, it is absolutely right and proper that SEPA is the organisation that takes the matter forward. I will happily ask it to write directly to Mark Ruskell to set out clearly what its further actions will be, should it deem that Mossmorran has not complied with any conditions that it has set out.
The First Minister will be aware of the case of Olya Merry, who was ordered to leave the United Kingdom by the Home Office, despite being married to a Scottish citizen and having a Scottish daughter. Olya and her family, who are in the gallery today, are delighted that interventions by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and local politicians have led to the Home Office’s decision being paused for review.
Will the First Minister confirm that the Scottish Government will continue to put pressure on the UK Government to ensure that Olya is permitted to remain permanently at her home in Coatbridge with her husband and daughter? Will she also confirm that the Scottish Government will continue to demand the devolution of immigration law, so that Scottish citizens are not affected in a similar way in the future?
First, I welcome the Merry family to the gallery. I am sure that the whole Parliament will also want to welcome them.
Fiona Hyslop raised the case with the Home Secretary last week. We will continue to make appropriate representations in order to give the Merry family the peace of mind that they require about the right of Mrs Merry to remain permanently in Coatbridge with her husband and daughter.
This case, and the appalling treatment of the children of the Windrush generation that has come to light this week, demonstrate more clearly than has perhaps been the case previously that we urgently need a humane immigration system across the whole UK, and not the hostile environment that Theresa May has been so keen to put in place. We need a system that respects human dignity, that recognises individual circumstances and which does not focus on arbitrarily cutting numbers and unjustly forcing people to leave the country that they have come to call home. That is the sort of humane immigration policy that I want to see in place. We will continue to argue very loudly and clearly for that.
West Glasgow Ambulatory Care Hospital Minor Injury Unit
This morning, I received a press release—I believe that it will be issued to the press this afternoon—informing me that the minor injury unit at the Yorkhill hospital will close tomorrow, and that the service will return to the Queen Elizabeth university hospital. That came as a surprise to me; it will be a surprise to my constituents who took part in a consultation and were absolutely sure that the minor injury unit would not go to the former Southern general hospital.
Does the First Minister agree that a press release is not the way to inform elected members or their constituents about such matters? Will she contact Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board to convene a meeting about where in the west of the city of Glasgow the MIU will be based?
First, I am happy to look into how the public information has been communicated. If what Sandra White has outlined is correct—I have no reason to believe that it is not—it strikes me that that is an unacceptable way for the health board to have done it. I am happy to ask the health board to communicate directly with Sandra White.
On the substantive issue of service provision, which is an important one in the city of Glasgow, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reopened the west Glasgow minor injury unit at Yorkhill from early January as part of its plan to manage winter pressures. The timeframe was extended to cover the Easter holiday period.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport has made it clear that she expects Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board to ensure that the west of the city has appropriate unscheduled care provision, and I know that the board will soon consider proposals for plans to provide such local services. The health secretary will continue to monitor the progress of that work and provide updates. I will make sure that a message goes to Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board to ask it to contact Sandra White directly.
Perinatal Mental Health Services
A report issued this morning has found that new mothers in half of Scotland cannot access specialist life-saving mental health services. The Maternal Mental Health Alliance says that there is no specialist provision in Tayside, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, the Western Isles, Orkney or Shetland; only Glasgow meets the required standards in the whole of the country. The First Minister was warned about the situation three years ago, so why is the Government failing mothers and their children?
This is an extremely important issue, and we have taken the step of funding a national managed clinical network on perinatal mental health. As I am sure that Willie Rennie is aware, the MCN brings together specialists in perinatal mental health, nursing, maternity and infant mental health and is designed to improve the treatment of perinatal mental healthcare.
The network is delivering a work plan, which includes assessing provision across all levels of service delivery. The report to which Willie Rennie refers should be taken into account in that. The network is also looking at how it ensures that all women, their children and their families have equity of access to the perinatal mental health services that they need. The work is on-going, and I am happy to provide Willie Rennie with more detail about that and to answer any further questions from him as a result of that further information.
The managed clinical network is a good thing, but it is far from enough. The institutes and the alliance have identified where the gaps in services are. The Government is not doing enough quickly enough. The Royal College of Midwives is scathing about the Government’s record. It says that the consequences of poor services can be fatal. We should not forget that the tragedy of suicide is the leading cause of maternal deaths. Where is the six-week check? Where are the community networks? Why does Scotland lag behind England?
I ask the First Minister about mental health almost every single week in the Parliament and this week is yet another week when we hear of a new report on failures of the Government’s mental health policy. One week, it is young people waiting an age for treatment. The next week, it is adults. Now it is mothers. Is it not the case that mental health is fast becoming this Government’s record of shame?
Willie Rennie asks regularly about mental health and I give him great credit for doing so, because it is an extremely serious issue. However, every week when he asks me, I outline the work that the Scottish Government is doing to address the issues and concerns that have been raised. I guess that it is easy for him to dismiss the managed clinical network as important but not enough, but the work that that network is doing will enable us to address the specific concerns.
The report that has been published today provides further evidence and information that will be very helpful in the work that the MCN is doing. I know, for example, that one of the things that the report calls for—perhaps not surprisingly—is more prioritised funding, which we will consider seriously. In that respect, it is looking particularly at community services.
I have set out in summary the work that the network is doing around its work plan. That work will take forward the actions that address the concerns that Willie Rennie is raising.
I have absolutely no issue with Willie Rennie raising these issues; I encourage members to continue to raise them. However, I also ask and hope that members will appreciate that the range of work that is being done—whether about young people, perinatal mental health or other aspects of mental health provision—under the auspices of our mental health strategy, which was recently praised by the World Health Organization on a recent visit to Scotland, is specifically addressing these important concerns.
Social Security (Scotland) Bill (Terminal Illness)
Just weeks after Gordon Aikman’s death, with his grieving family in the gallery, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport promised a fast-tracked benefit system. She said that she would end the injustice of terminally ill people waiting months for their benefits—and I believed her.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government lodged amendment 111 to the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, the intention of which is to keep the failing system just as it is, reversing changes that were agreed to at stage 2. Given that Marie Curie has described that as very disappointing and that more than 50 leading doctors have expressed their deep concern in today’s edition of The Times, will the First Minister please intervene to ensure that people with less than two years to live get the benefits that they so desperately need?
I will take a bit of time to address this issue properly, because it is a serious one. I spent much of this morning discussing this very issue with the Minister for Social Security in advance of stage 3 of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, which will take place next week. It is a difficult and sensitive issue and I am sure that Kezia Dugdale would recognise that it is also a complex one. I am sure that all MSPs on the Social Security Committee who have been scrutinising the bill would recognise that. I make it clear that the Government and the Minister for Social Security will continue to listen and discuss the best way forward on this right up to the stage 3 votes next week.
On the time limits, the change from two years, which was amended in at stage 2 of the bill, to six months relates to the difficulties that, according to some clinicians, there are in accurately diagnosing life expectancy over a period as long as two years. However, that is not the fundamental point in this. The fundamental point that I want to make, which I think is alluded to in the open letter that was published today, is that if we have a time limit that is the only basis for determining eligibility, whether that time limit is six months, two years or whatever, we will always have the risk of excluding people who should be included, because time limits, by their nature, are arbitrary.
That is why the most important part of the Scottish Government’s amendment is the second part, whose effect would be that there will be no hard or rigidly applied timeframe. That means that, for somebody who would not be able to fulfil the six-month timeframe requirement, a medical practitioner would still be able to certify their eligibility. Clinicians will still be able to use their judgment on a case-by-case basis. That is the important thing here.
In the discussions that I had with Jeane Freeman this morning, we were talking about how to get away from time limits and focus more on clinical judgment. We will continue to have discussions with anyone who is interested in the issue right up to the final stage of the bill. It is a difficult, sensitive and complex issue. I hope that all members recognise that it is not a party-political issue but one that we all desperately want to get right. I give a commitment today that we will do our best to get it right, because that is what we all want.
NHS Highland (Contracts)
Given Audit Scotland’s report on contracts in NHS Highland, which found that contracts were informal, long running without review, unaudited and not documented, and given the sums of money involved, can the First Minister confirm whether the Scottish Government has complete confidence in the management of NHS Highland? Given NHS Highland’s annual overspend, could the matter be another example of incompetent governance?
I understand that the report that Mr Mountain refers to relates to the provision of two contracts in NHS Highland: one is for healthcare at the Nairn medical practice and the other is for the carrying out of vasectomies across the Highlands. The report states that the contracts date from 1998. It raises issues of procurement. NHS Highland has already said that it is taking the required action to implement the recommendations and will monitor that via its own audit committee.
I expect all health boards to follow relevant procurement regulations to ensure the best use of resources. We have been clear that we expect NHS Highland to address the issues that are raised in the audit report and to fully implement its recommendations—as NHS Highland has already said that it will do.
Clyde Shipyards (Contracts)
In 2013, the unionist parties warned us that Scottish shipyards would lose out on contracts to build Royal Navy ships if Scotland were outside the United Kingdom. However, the Westminster Tory Government is now encouraging overseas shipyards to compete for the latest billion-pound order. Work from that order would create and secure up to 6,500 jobs. Will the First Minister back calls for that work to come to the Clyde?
Yes, I will. That work should be on the Clyde, I argue that that work was promised to the Clyde and should definitely go to the Clyde. We should be very clear. What we are now seeing develop around that work and the future of the shipyards is nothing short of a blatant betrayal of Scottish shipyards. During the referendum, promises were made to those shipyards by the Tories, and indeed, by all the unionist parties—the shipyards were told of promises of work for years to come. The unionist parties specifically said that, if Scotland became independent, it would not be able to secure that work for the Clyde, because contracts could not go to “foreign countries”. It is an absolute betrayal and I hope that we will hear all parties across the Parliament stand up for shipbuilding on the Clyde.
Syrian Refugees (Resettlement)
I remind members that I am a parliamentary liaison officer to the First Minister.
To ask the First Minister how many Syrian refugees have been resettled in Scotland. (S5F-02247)
Scotland has welcomed around 2,150 people under the Syrian resettlement programme since October 2015. We remain committed to welcoming refugees seeking sanctuary from the conflict in Syria and because of that refugees continue to arrive. I hope that they all receive a warm welcome in Scotland.
The Syrian community in Scotland will be worried about the current situation in Syria and particularly worried about their family and friends who remain in the country. My thoughts are with them.
I emphasise that Scotland will continue to provide a home for people who are fleeing war and persecution. We are committed to welcoming as many as we can of those who arrive in the United Kingdom during 2018.
As well as warmly welcoming those from Syria who have made Scotland their home, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those organisations that have supported those who are settling into communities across Scotland, including the services provided by Multi-Cultural Family Base in Leith, in my constituency.
Like many others, I think that we should celebrate the positive impact of the resettlement programme in Scotland, but I am also concerned about the welfare of asylum seekers from Syria who are living here outwith that programme and who therefore do not receive adequate support from the Home Office as regards both funding and assistance to settle into communities. Does the First Minister agree that the Home Office must look again at what support it provides to asylum seekers, improve the support that is provided and treat everyone equally?
Yes, I agree very strongly with that. First, I thank local authorities and all organisations that have played their part in welcoming those who have come under the Syrian resettlement programme. Just before Christmas, I attended an event at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities at which we celebrated the work that had been done to make sure that that welcome was as warm as it has been.
However, that should apply not just to those who come through the resettlement programme but to everybody who seeks asylum in our country. We believe very strongly that integration begins from day 1 of arrival and not just when people have been granted refugee status. The support that the UK Government provides under the Syrian resettlement programme is very good and very welcome, but that also serves to highlight the gulf between it and the minimal support that is provided for asylum seekers. Indeed, it creates a two-tier system. I encourage the UK Government to extend the model of holistic support that we see as part of the resettlement programme and to fund the integration of asylum seekers to give them an equal chance to rebuild their lives here and fulfil the potential that they and their families have.
Last week, in a feeble and misguided attempt to look strong and stable, the UK Government engaged in military action in Syria, on the basis of flimsy evidence, without waiting for the findings of an independent inquiry and at the behest of a presidential tweet. Such action risks increasing the flow of refugees from that war-torn country. Does the First Minister agree that the UK Government needs to do far more to facilitate the arrival of refugees in this country than it has done so far?
That is important because, regardless of anybody’s views on the air strikes that took place last weekend—and there will be differing views in the community at large and, indeed, the Syrian community in Scotland about the efficacy and the rights and wrongs of air strikes—they underline the importance of making sure that we welcome those who are fleeing the conflict in Syria. I have said before, and I will say again, that, for all that the UK Government does good work there, it could do much more.
All of us are appalled by the actions of the Assad regime. If it were to be the case—and I have no difficulty in believing that he is capable of doing so—that he launched chemical weapons attacks against his own population, all of us would be appalled by that. The question is how best to deal with it. My view, which has been borne out by experience, is that isolated air strikes do not help to resolve the underlying situation in Syria. As the United Nations secretary general has said, there is no military solution to the situation and we need to get back to finding a political one. I hope that that is now the priority of all the countries that are involved.
Recent escalations in the Syrian conflict have displaced more people from their homes and only compounded the refugee crisis. Will the First Minister confirm whether the Scottish Government-owned Prestwick airport was used by the United States military in its recent air campaign, which will only serve to compound the conflict?
Look, we have discussed the issue of Prestwick airport, the commercial nature of what it does and the fact that what it does as regards military flights is no different to what it has done all along. As far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, there are two issues. I will not repeat what I have said about my views on air strikes. What all of us need to do is get back to a situation in which the Geneva political process in Syria is given priority. Fundamentally, we need to see a long-term, sustainable political settlement to the situation in Syria. All of us—many greater than those of us in this chamber—have a part to play in encouraging that process.
Sport and Physical Activity (Participation)
To ask the First Minister, in light of Scotland’s success at the Commonwealth games, what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that there is opportunity for all to participate in sport and physical activity, from grass-roots to elite sport. (S5F-02225)
First, I am sure that—perhaps rarely—everybody will join in agreement when I take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who is involved with Team Scotland on achieving its best-ever away games by winning an amazing 44 medals, which beats the previous medal tally for an overseas games of 29 in Melbourne in 2006. The efforts of not just our athletes but everybody in Team Scotland, their support teams and their families have been absolutely incredible. I want to place on record my congratulations to each and every one of them. They demonstrate that Scottish sport is growing in strength and depth, with Sport Scotland and our governing bodies developing talent in our athletes, and coaching and support staff.
That success does not happen by accident; it comes through sustained investment in and commitment to our whole sporting system. We have created opportunities through the active schools programme, community sports hubs and a comprehensive range of performance and national performance centres. All of that is enabling more people of all ages and backgrounds to regularly take part in sport and physical activity, from grass roots to high-performance level.
I associate myself with the First Minister’s comments on the amazing efforts of our athletes and I take the opportunity to recognise the governing bodies, clubs, coaches and volunteers across the country whose relentless hard work has been instrumental in delivering that success. Does the First Minister agree that success at elite level helps to drive participation, but that that can happen only if there is accessible opportunity? Does she also agree that opening up the school estate for extracurricular and out-of-school activities and aligning those activities with those of local sports clubs is an initiative that would help to deliver sustainable participation?
Yes, I agree with that, and much of that is already happening. Of course, with some private finance initiative schools, some of which were built under previous Tory Governments, there are restrictions on opening up sports facilities in that way. However, we are doing a number of things. We are protecting sportscotland’s budget, we have exceeded our aim of creating 150 community sports hubs as part of the Glasgow Commonwealth games legacy and of course we have been investing in a range of national performance centres, with Oriam in Edinburgh being one of the shining examples.
I agree with the thrust of the question that high-performance success helps to drive and inspire performance generally, which is why we will continue to ensure that our funding and support span mass participation as well as providing more targeted support for our most talented athletes.
I, too, associate myself with the First Minister’s remarks regarding the success of medallists and all who represented Scotland, but there is a “but”. The Government’s final evaluation report on the Glasgow Commonwealth games in 2014, which was published this month, states:
“hosting a major event is not, in and of itself, likely to have an automatic, positive impact on population levels of sports participation and physical activity.”
So not even hosting an event makes a mark. Given the increase in obesity, even in pre-school children, is the First Minister satisfied that the appropriate balance is being struck between elite funding and the humble, but I would suggest more pressing, provision of funding to encourage exercise—I stress the word “exercise”—at a very basic level?
Christine Grahame raises an important issue. That balance will always be important and, inevitably, it will not always be easy to strike. I certainly agree that simply hosting a major event will not deliver benefits, and we have never argued that. We have to work hard to get those benefits, which is what we have been doing since Glasgow 2014, and we will continue to do that during and after the European championships that will take place in Glasgow this summer.
However, we also invest heavily in community activity and sport. For example, on physical education in schools, through our active schools programme, between 2012 and 2016, we invested nearly £12 million in supporting schools to meet our PE commitment, and we have seen massive improvement in that respect. We are also doubling investment in active travel.
We are actually seeing an increase in the number of people taking part in sport, and many of our governing bodies are seeing rises in participation. For example, Scottish Athletics has experienced a 49 per cent increase in athletics club members since 2011; Scottish Swimming has had an increase of 25 per cent; and Scottish Cycling has had an increase of 12 per cent. The number of children meeting the guidelines on physical activity has increased from 71 per cent in 2008 to 76 per cent in 2016.
There is more work to do and we will always need to take care to get that balance right. It is important that we invest in community activity, but it is also important that we invest to give our most talented athletes the best chance possible of going to major competitions such as the Commonwealth games and coming home with medals.
“Local government in Scotland: Challenges and performance 2018”
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the recent Accounts Commission report, “Local government in Scotland: Challenges and performance 2018”. (S5F-02240)
We welcome the report, which makes a number of recommendations to help councils to meet the challenges that they face and emphasises the need for councils to develop new ways of working. For example, it says that councils should work with communities to understand their needs and to actively involve them in decision making, which are objectives that the Scottish Government has been promoting through our community empowerment agenda. I encourage all councils to consider the report carefully, as I am sure they are doing, and to take any necessary actions to implement its recommendations.
The First Minister must be worried, as I am, about what the report says about the critical state of local government finances and about the warning that councils are struggling to provide care for our older people. This is really serious. The First Minister has a mandate to govern Scotland for the next three years; does she have the courage to fix the funding and care crisis so that all older people in Scotland receive the care that they need and deserve?
That is what we are doing. We just agreed to a budget—I appreciate that Labour voted against the budget—that delivers a real-terms increase in the revenue budgets for local authorities. We are transferring resources from the national health service into social care, so that we not only build up social care services to help local authorities with what they do but help to relieve the pressure on the NHS. We are taking forward the extension of free personal care to under-65s. We have already taken forward plans to pay the living wage to people who work in our social care services.
We are getting on with that work day in, day out. It might be better if, instead of making constant requests for us to do more and then voting against budgets that we bring forward to do exactly that, Labour were occasionally to bring something more constructive to this chamber.
The First Minister will be aware that the Accounts Commission’s report expresses a number of concerns, not least about the threat that leaving the European Union poses to Scotland’s working-age population. Scotland’s projected population growth is entirely due to inward migration, so does the First Minister share the commission’s concern that leaving the EU could have an impact on the number of working-age people in Scotland, which would mean less money for public spending, through taxation?
Yes, I share that concern and I think that everyone in Scotland should share that concern. Our population continues to increase and is at a record high, but that growth has been driven by migration. The Fraser of Allander institute, too, has highlighted concerns about the impact of Brexit on migration and our long-term growth prospects.
It is clear that not only is United Kingdom policy on immigration inhumane, but it is harming Scotland’s economic interests. That is why this Parliament has backed our call for new powers so that the Scottish ministers can offer migration routes to people who want to make Scotland their home.