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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 27 June 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Topical Question Time, European Union Negotiations and Scotland’s Future, NHS Ayrshire and Arran Maternity Services (Review of Management of Adverse Events), Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Information Commissioner, Decision Time, Online Exploitation and Abuse of Children


Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill

Time is tight as we have run slightly over. The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-06356, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill.


I am pleased to open this stage 3 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. I thank all those who have contributed in different ways to parliamentary consideration of the bill. I am grateful to members of the Justice Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their detailed scrutiny of the bill, and the constructive and helpful recommendations that were set out in their reports. I also thank members for their contributions during the stage 1 debate, as well as today.

I am particularly grateful to all those who took the time to contribute oral and written evidence to the Justice Committee. That input is vital to effective parliamentary scrutiny and it is important that there is an opportunity for all perspectives to be heard. The committee’s report has done an excellent job of summarising those perspectives and setting out for us how they should be taken into account. We have responded positively to many of those recommendations.

This Parliament is now accountable for railway policing in Scotland. I believe that the process of parliamentary scrutiny of the bill demonstrates a clear appetite to take those responsibilities seriously on behalf of the people of Scotland. Scotland’s railways are a vital component of our national infrastructure, and the specialist railway policing function that the British Transport Police provides is highly valued by the Scottish Government, the rail industry, railway staff and, of course, passengers.

In taking forward the bill, our primary objective is to maintain and enhance the high standards of safety and security for railway users and staff in Scotland. Police Scotland has confirmed to the Justice Committee that its intention is to maintain a specialist railway policing function within its broader structure. Assistant Chief Constable Higgins of Police Scotland gave an assurance that Police Scotland would respect the right of any member of the British Transport Police who transfers to police the railway environment until they retire.

During the consideration of amendments, I raised an issue that was not addressed, and I would like the minister to address it now. What will happen to the emergency intervention units? What will their status be if the bill is passed?

As was mentioned during the consideration of amendments, the operation of the emergency intervention units will continue to be an operational matter for the chief constable; it would not be for the Parliament or the Government to intervene on that. It would be fair to say that, for all of us—the chief constable of Police Scotland, the Government and Opposition members—the safety of those who travel on or work on our railways is of paramount importance.

It is extremely important that we preserve the existing specialist railway policing expertise. We have said that we want that to continue post-integration, and ACC Higgins has said that that will be the case. I welcome the amendment that John Finnie lodged at stage 2—which was agreed to—to include that guarantee in the bill.

The integration of the BTP in Scotland into Police Scotland will deliver an integrated approach to transport infrastructure policing in Scotland and will bring railway policing alongside the policing of roads, seaports, airports and border policing. Integration is about providing a single command structure for policing in Scotland so that there is access to wider support facilities and specialist resources. Crucially, those include Police Scotland’s counter-terrorism capabilities. The size and nature of a single police service in Police Scotland enables it to flex rapidly to deal with dynamic situations. In response to recent events, we have seen an increase in armed police response, for example at transport hubs. That is a response that is not provided by the BTP—it is provided by Police Scotland.

Another key benefit that the bill provides is that of directly improving the accountability of railway policing in Scotland to those who depend most upon it. It establishes a mechanism for railway operators to agree with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland on the service, performance and costs of railway policing in Scotland. As we heard earlier when we considered the amendments, the bill places the SPA under an obligation to seek the views on railway policing matters of passengers, railway employees, police constables and staff, and others.

I am aware that members have received correspondence from the British Transport Police Federation expressing some doubt about the guarantees that we have set out on terms and conditions for officers and staff who transfer to Police Scotland. I would like to repeat those assurances so that members can be clear that there is no such doubt. I remain absolutely committed to our triple-lock guarantee to secure the jobs, pay and pensions of railway policing officers and staff in Scotland.

Just this morning, I launched the hate crime charter, which the City of Edinburgh Council, alongside a number of transport providers, has developed to stamp out all forms of hatred on our transport networks. I spoke to BTP officers, who told me that they had received reassurances—they were almost quoting them verbatim—on the triple-lock guarantee. Of course, the devil will be in the detail. The discussions of the joint programme board will be extremely important in taking forward the commitment that we have given in that regard.

On 9 May, I gave a clear assurance that the terms and conditions, pay and pensions of officers and staff who transfer will be the same as they are currently, or that an equivalent level of benefit will be provided to ensure that transfer takes place on a no-detriment basis. On pensions, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is on record as saying that our starting point is that officers and staff who transfer will retain access to their current pension scheme. Passage of the bill will enable the steps to deliver those commitments to proceed, including secondary legislation in the United Kingdom Parliament. Although considerable work on the detail must follow, our commitment to those guarantees is absolutely clear.

I would like to address again the suggestion that some members have previously made that there are alternative ways of using the powers over railway policing that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Tories said during the stage 1 debate on the bill that their favoured alternative was

“to enable the BTP to continue in Scotland and across the UK”,

and that

“devolution offers the chance to keep the single British Transport Police force”.—[Official Report, 9 May 2017; c 42, 77.]

It was with some surprise, then, that when I opened the Scottish Conservative Party manifesto for the recent UK elections I read the following:

“We will create a national infrastructure police force, bringing together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and the British Transport Police to improve the protection of critical infrastructure such as nuclear sites, railways and the strategic road network.”

Will the minister accept an intervention on that point?


I thank the minister for taking an intervention. Does he recognise, although it might not be convenient to the political point that he is trying to make, that there is a big difference between consolidating specialist policing across the UK and amalgamating specialist policing into a single police force that deals with all aspects of policing?

The member highlights why there is one rule for Westminster and another for Scotland. One of the reasons why we are doing this is accountability, but the other reason is to ensure that there is integration between railway policing and other transport modes, whether that is seaports or airports. If the member can accept that that is the case for what he claims is happening in England and Wales, why does he not accept that that is what we are trying to do up here in Scotland, too—to integrate railway policing with the policing of seaports, airports and so on and so forth?

Given the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment to merge the BTP south of the border into a bigger national infrastructure force, I would have expected that we could count on Conservative support for the bill. However, given Oliver Mundell’s intervention, that will probably not be the case.

Members can now be in no doubt whatever what the Conservatives would do if we left the decision on railway policing in Scotland to the UK Government. Railway policing in Scotland would still be integrated, but not with the policing of the rest of Scotland’s transport infrastructure, which is what we want. Instead, railway policing would be integrated, bizarrely, with the strategic road network of England and Wales and with the policing of nuclear and Ministry of Defence sites. There is no synergy in that, no logic, and indeed no comprehension. I hope that no one in the chamber today considers that to be a valid alternative to the one that we have set out in the bill.

Minister, time is tight. Could you conclude your remarks and move the motion, please?

The Tories have effectively called in their manifesto for the abolition of the BTP. I urge members to support the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, to ensure that specialist railway policing in Scotland is accountable, through the chief constable of Police Scotland and the SPA, to the people of Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill be passed.

I call Oliver Mundell. You have a tight six minutes, Mr Mundell.


When it comes to a bill such as the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, it is easy to get caught up in debating the detail. After all, in most cases, that would be a prudent use of our time. However, this proposition is not about the facts, the evidence or what works. We know that for certain because, if it was, the proposed integration would never be before us. Instead, this ill-judged and ill-thought-out idea is before us for one reason and one reason only: the Scottish National Party Government’s constitutional and ideological obsession with control.

It gets right to the heart of everything that has gone wrong on the SNP’s watch. To many watching at home, it will seem absurd that we are spending our time debating the break-up of the only division of policing that is working well in Scotland at the moment.

Will the member give way?

No, I will not give way at this time.

Arguably, never in the history of legislation has such anger and ill feeling been invoked to deliver so little.

Will the member give way?

No, I will not give way.

That is an appalling thing to say.

I will not give way.

Cabinet secretary, be careful.

Under this Government we have seen ministers prioritise change for change’s sake rather than addressing the on-going chaos at Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority. At a time when accountability, scrutiny and transparency are absent in the line of duty, ministers have, with no hint of irony, had the brass neck to come to the chamber and knowingly ask us to make those problems worse.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not take an intervention.

I took an intervention from the member.

That was the minister’s choice.

The problems, lest we forget, have been created and have festered on the SNP’s watch. It is therefore unsurprising that I, for one, take all the Government’s promises on the integration of the British Transport Police with a pinch of salt. Throughout this process, ministers have sought to plough ahead with a single option. They have ignored the proposals for a different model that were put forward by the British Transport Police Authority and they have discounted the many voices of those who raised real concerns about their dangerous plan.

The Minister for Transport and the Islands has admitted—

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

I will not take an intervention.

The minister has admitted in the past that he is no expert on transport matters. Perhaps that is forgivable in SNP land, but what is unacceptable in this case is to ignore the experts.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am not taking interventions, Presiding Officer, because the Scottish Government, throughout the scrutiny of the bill, has chosen to ignore the voices of the witnesses whom we have heard from. Countless organisations, which I will name, have raised concerns.

It is unacceptable for the Scottish Government to dismiss those who work at the coal face and to suggest that, after the failings in police policy that have occurred on its watch, it is somehow still remotely credible to suggest that it knows better. No one is buying it this time. Indeed, the list of those with concerns is almost as long as the Scottish Government’s list of excuses when it comes to policing matters. The BTP, the Rail Delivery Group, the BTP Superintendents Association Branch, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, ScotRail, CrossCountry, Virgin Trains East Coast, TransPennine Express and even the Samaritans, to name but a few, have all expressed varying degrees of concern, but do not worry, folks—the Scottish Government has everything in hand. It will all be fine—until it is not, at which point it will not be its fault, and it will be too late to go back to how things used to be.

Today, we have a chance to say, “No more.” We have a chance to draw a line under the mistakes of the past and to learn from them. We have a chance to tell ministers to focus on getting their own house in order; to demand that they divert their efforts to steadying the ship at Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority; to leave our British Transport Police intact until we see the 2026 vision for our police service successfully delivered; and to see the accountability, scrutiny and transparency in action before we commit to more upheaval.

If recent experience is anything to go by, sometimes we are better with the devil we know. The seemingly insurmountable and never-ending state of crisis that has engulfed the single police force tells us that integration and institutional transformation can be more expensive and less efficient and deliver a poorer service than just leaving those who are doing a good job to get on with it.

To ignore the warnings of the past seems foolish, but to ignore the warnings of the present is unforgivable. This is so plainly the wrong time for integration, and the wrong model. That is why the Scottish Conservatives remain fundamentally opposed to the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland. The bill is not fit for purpose. We believe that, under the SNP Government, the risks of a botched job far outweigh any of the supposed benefits. What is more, we believe that the reckless way in which the SNP Government has bulldozed its preferred option through this Parliament will put public safety at risk on our railways.

We believe that, much like a runaway train, the bill needs to be halted in its tracks. I therefore urge members to vote it down at decision time and send this out-of-touch Government back to the drawing board.


I thank the Justice Committee for all the work that it has undertaken during the passage of the bill. Unfortunately, many of the concerns that have been raised are still unanswered. That has led us to the position that we find ourselves in today. We have attempted to strengthen the bill and address some of those concerns through my colleague Neil Bibby’s amendments this afternoon. Although we do not agree with the direction of the bill, the amendments that were agreed to represent a step in the right direction. They will help to reassure workers and the unions about the importance of representation in the new organisation. There is, however, still a job to be done to address the training concerns and the concerns about potential loss of expertise.

From the first consultation exercise, industry experts have resisted the Government’s plans to integrate the British Transport Police into Police Scotland, yet the Scottish Government has pushed on regardless, ignoring calls for reflection and fuller consultation. It has been determined to push the bill through Parliament without fully looking at all the options available to it. It has chosen to ignore the concerns of staff and unions. That is regrettable.

A number of serious concerns have been raised throughout the process, and serious operational and financial questions remain unanswered. The bill is an expensive plan to fix something that is not broken. That is why we ask the Scottish Government not to pass the bill today but to pause and use the summer recess to engage with the trade unions, the industry at large and the British Transport Police to look at all the options that are open to achieve devolution. We know that there are at least three options, of which the bill is only one.

I make it clear that we are not saying that there should be no change. Scottish Labour agreed to the Smith commission report and we accept the principles that were agreed to, including the one that stated that the functions of the British Transport Police should be devolved. However, we do not agree with the conclusion that the Scottish Government has come to. We believe that we could have positive change and we must be confident that what is proposed is the right option. I remain unconvinced that the bill is the right option.

The bill will impact on cross-border rail services. According to evidence heard at committee, that could mean a reduction in the effectiveness of tackling major UK-wide issues, such as terrorism. The bill could mean a loss of expertise in our force.

Does the member recognise that the assistant chief constable gave the examples of the arrangements of the British Transport Police through the tunnel and into France? He did not see a challenge.

Serious concerns were raised at committee by the British Transport Police Federation and other trade unions about effectiveness in tackling major incidents, and about the break-up of the British Transport Police. Notwithstanding John Finnie’s comments, I do not think that those concerns have been adequately addressed through the bill process. They certainly have not been addressed enough to satisfy the British Transport Police Federation.

The bill could mean a loss of expertise in the force and there are real concerns that such integration could lead to increased costs for rail operators and the general public either through increased fares or a reduction in the quality of service as operators’ funds are diverted to the increased costs of a merger. We have also heard many times that continuing with the bill would impact on the terms and conditions of service for current BTP officers and staff, and that future staff will not receive the same terms. None of those concerns has yet been fully addressed by the Government and no agreement on moving forward is in place.

The D division of the British Transport Police works for us here in Scotland, and we should be thanking those officers for their dedicated hard work, not threatening the organisation’s existence. The legislation has been rushed. There is more than one option for the future of the British Transport Police that would meet the objectives of the Smith commission but the options have not been given the proper scrutiny or consultation that they deserve. There is the option of a non-statutory devolved model of governance and accountability that could be achieved through administrative rather than legislative means. There is also the option for a statutory devolved model.

We believe that all options should be properly explored, but instead we have a Government that is determined to put legislation through Parliament that cannot command consensus. The rush to integrate D division into Police Scotland with overview from the SPA—an organisation that faces significant financial and governance difficulties—introduces a level of risk to transport policing that is not in the best interests of passengers. The bill has no manifesto mandate, no public support and very little industry support. It has operational concerns and serious financial unknowns. Scottish Labour cannot therefore support the bill this afternoon.


I was disappointed to hear Oliver Mundell attacking many of my constituents who work for the Ministry of Defence Police and look after the St Fergus oil and gas terminal. They are effective, as policing across Scotland in all our forces is effective. The police are part of the reason why offending in Scotland is at a 42-year low.

Let us talk about borders. Claire Baker raised the issue of cross-border policing. We might have slightly forgotten that the British Transport Police is not a UK-wide force but a Great Britain police force. The Police Service Northern Ireland shares responsibility with An Garda Síochána for the policing of the railway system in Ireland. That involves a border between two states and the performance of policing there is no worse, being broadly similar to the performance of policing here. There are organisational models that we can choose and, when we look at that as an example, there is absolutely no reason to believe that we will have any difficulty.

Claire Baker also reminded us of the Smith commission, which was the genesis of the discussion that we are having today, and the unanimity of the view that the powers should be transferred to Scotland.

If a member of the public sees someone in a police uniform, they do not ask what police service they work for; indeed, they will not be aware of which service they work for. They simply recognise that they are a policeman or a policewoman and they will go to them for succour, information or assistance or to report problems, regardless of which police force they are with. A unified system that looks after Scotland has significant advantages, removing difficulties at interfaces.

There is not a huge amount of crime on the railway. The British Transport Police deal with about 10 offences a day in Scotland, which equates to 5.5 crimes a day—I am not sure why the figures are different.

The point has been made that, if we are to take on responsibility for railway policing, we should not do it now. However, I am reminded of the old saying that one should repair the roof of one’s house when the sun is out. In other words, we would be under the most immense criticism if we were to look at reorganising this facet of our policing in response to a crisis. Frankly, it is far better that we do it in a measured way that has taken place over several years.

Railway policing is not new. The Metropolitan Police opened for business on 29 September 1829 and the railway police started three years earlier. They have been around for a long time indeed.

I congratulate Neil Bibby on what has been a positive engagement. He has done something that Opposition members do not always get to do: he has managed to amend a Government bill. It took me about four years to succeed in doing that, despite my considerable efforts. He has done a good and useful thing.

We have had a great debate about personal track safety certificates. Whenever a police officer is close to an operational railway, it is important that they have the proper training. I have complete confidence that the chief constable will ensure that such training is provided to officers who have to be close to operational railways.

The bill is an excellent step forward, and I will be happy to support the Government come decision time tonight.


During the stage 1 debate, Douglas Ross, who was then an MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said of the proposals:

“To forge ahead regardless, ignoring the advice of so many experts and professionals, would be the wrong thing to do.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2017; c 44.]

As we debate the bill at stage 3, it gives me no pleasure to note that his words are being ignored.

Stakeholders remain overwhelmingly opposed to the proposals. The Rail Delivery Group has stated that integrating the service is not in passengers’ interests. The BTP warns that

“a deep and clear understanding of the unique requirements of the railway”

will be lost. The unions have expressed concerns about the safety of railway staff and passengers, and the RMT, ASLEF, the TSSA and the Scottish Trades Union Congress explicitly state that they oppose the bill. CrossCountry has said that the plans present a

“massive risk to network resilience”.

Just last week, we all received an open letter from the British Transport Police Federation, in which it stated that

“the security of passengers and rail staff is being risked in pursuit of rushed and ill-considered legislation”.

Virtually an entire industry is saying that the proposals will lead to increased delays for passengers, to compromised safety of passengers and staff, to lost expertise and to the dilution of the unrivalled specialism of existing railway policing. Yet, like Oliver Mundell’s runaway train, the Government barrels on, ignoring the danger signals and all desperate attempts to apply the brakes.

The BTP Federation and the commission on parliamentary reform have expressed grave concerns about the speed at which the bill has progressed through the Parliament, and they are right to do so. The bill was introduced on 8 December 2016 and was debated at stage 1 last month. However, according to the BTP Federation,

“right from the outset, there has been no acknowledgement of our views or those of the police officers ... because a simple decision has been taken that there is only one option—that of full integration.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 36-37.]

Will the member take an intervention?

There is no time—I am sorry.

The people have had no time to grasp fully and unreservedly the consequences and the challenges of the legislation. If only we could be confident that the Scottish Government was working off a template that worked. If only there were a seamless police merger that had delivered major benefits for the public; reduced costs; developed and integrated a cost-effective, functioning information technology system; increased public confidence in the police; reduced stress absence among those who deliver vital services, enabling them better to serve the public; and created a force that was operating so well that it was crying out for additional major responsibilities. If only there were such a merger, like the Police Scotland merger—or perhaps not.

It does not make sense to pursue this merger when the rail operators, the rail unions, the travelling public, the BTP Federation and the BTP itself do not want it, and when Deputy Chief Constable Hanstock has remarked that the plans have no “operational or economic benefits”.

Will the member take an intervention?

I have four minutes; I cannot take interventions. I am sorry. There are important points to be made.

It does not make sense to pursue the merger when the bill appears to go against public safety—[Interruption.] The whole problem with this debate is that we are rushing—

I do not want discussions to take place across the chamber. The minister can deal with some of the points when he sums up.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Lord Chesterfield said:

“Advice is seldom welcome, and those who need it the most, like it the least”.

SNP back benchers will care little for my advice, but this is the opportunity for the Scottish Government to listen to the evidence, to members across the Parliament who, having considered the evidence, refuse to support this misguided bill, and—most important—to industry experts, who have been resolute in their opposition.

If there is any doubt about whether passing the bill could prejudice safety, the precautionary principle mandates that members vote against it. That doubt exists. Members must decide, when voting tonight, whether they will follow the experts, the evidence and the industry and vote against the bill or herd behind Michael Matheson and Humza Yousaf. If the bill is passed today, and if, in the future, any of the warnings that have been expressed during this extraordinarily truncated process turn out to have been prescient—God forbid—the members who voted for the bill against the expert advice should remember that the voting record does not change. I know which column I want my name in.


The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation that will strengthen and complement the work of Police Scotland.

Amendments in the names of Neil Bibby and Liam McArthur would have altered and delayed an essential piece of legislation that is crucial to the policing of Scotland. Recent events have demonstrated how important it is to have a co-ordinated, single-force approach to public safety. Even the naysayers of a Scotland-wide police force now agree that the force is working well and that eight legacy forces could not have achieved such an effective response to the recent heightened threat level.

As Mairi Evans said, the irony of the situation is that the 2017 Tory manifesto proposes the creation of a national police force, integrating the MOD Police, the BTP and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. The inference is that it is okay for that to happen in England but not in Scotland. There is no logic to that, and the Tory position is rank hypocrisy. Oliver Mundell’s comments were outrageous, disrespectful to Police Scotland and inaccurate—his speech was simply, “SNP bad”.

The integration of the BTP with Police Scotland will make the service fully accountable to the people of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament, which is entirely as it should be. Railway policing is currently accountable to the British Transport Police Authority, the Department for Transport and the Secretary of State for Transport in England and Wales. That is simply undemocratic.

More than 93 million rail journeys are made in Scotland each year, and there are another 8 million cross-border rail journeys, so it makes sense to upskill all police officers to ensure greater public safety and the security of our country. Should the bill proceed, after 2019 every Police Scotland officer will be trained in policing the railways. Officers will get exactly the same three-week training as is currently received only by BTP officers.

The specialism of transport policing will be retained, and Police Scotland has confirmed to the Scottish Parliament that a bespoke railway policing unit will be established for Scotland, to recognise and keep that specialism. The unit will sit alongside the specialist road policing unit that already exists and the ethos and specialism of railway policing will be enhanced, not diminished. In addition, as Mairi Evans said, rural areas that are currently not served by the BTP will benefit from having specially trained officers on hand to deal with incidents.

In amendment 5, Neil Bibby proposed that the Scottish ministers should specify the required level of personal track safety training. Does he really want to hand over operational duties to politicians? Does he not trust the knowledge and expertise of the chief constable?

Liam McArthur’s amendment 7 would have delayed integration until 2027. It might have been more honest of the Lib Dems just to say that they do not want integration. There are currently 285 full-time-equivalent BTP officers in Scotland and more than 17,000 regular police officers, so integration can only improve the service to the rail network throughout Scotland.

There was concern over the transfer of BTP staff and their pay and conditions through the course of integration. However, in December 2016, in a letter to the BTPF, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice gave a triple-lock guarantee to secure the jobs, pay and pensions of railway police officers and staff in Scotland. The minister confirmed that today. There will be no detriment to pay or pensions and no redundancies—it could not be clearer than that.

Contrary to the comments from the BTPF’s Nigel Goodband, Assistant Chief Constable Higgins described the timescale for the negotiations as a luxury and said that the engagement between the Scottish Government and the railway industry had been praised by both sides.

You have nine seconds.

Everyone agrees that the British Transport Police do, and have consistently done, a superbly professional job of keeping the rail-travelling public safe. The integration of railway policing—

And that, I am afraid, Ms Mackay, is it. You should look at me rather than just plough on. I waved my pen. Please sit down.


From the outset, Scottish Labour has been clear that it supports the devolution of the British Transport Police in Scotland but cannot support the force’s dissolution in Scotland. The path that the Government has chosen is the wrong one. Members should make no mistake: it is a political choice, not a necessity. Labour will oppose the SNP’s attack on the British Transport Police and will also oppose in the House of Commons any attempt by the Conservative Government to attack the force.

There are alternatives to the dismantling of the British Transport Police as we know it and its integration into Police Scotland—alternatives that were set out by the British Transport Police Authority and that many people in the rail industry believe were never given serious consideration. I remind members what the Rail Delivery Group has said about the integration:

“the reason behind undertaking the integration is because it can be done as opposed to there being a well set out argument as to why it should be done.”

The British Transport Police Federation said:

“there has been no acknowledgement of our views or those of the police officers whom we represent, because a simple decision has been taken that there is only one option—that of full integration.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 36-37.]

It is shocking that the Government is ignoring the fundamental views and concerns of our police officers. The TSSA, which represents BTP staff, has also said that

“the idea of integration is first and foremost that of a political agenda that overrides the implications for policing”.

We have before us a bill that will break up a police service that has been subject to more reviews by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary than any other in the country. It has consistently been found to be efficient, to be cost effective and to carry the confidence of the travelling public. Not one of the principal stakeholders involved with the British Transport Police believes that integration is necessary, and not one believes that it will make the policing of our railways any better or make passengers any safer—not the officers, the staff, the train operators or the rail unions. If the train operators and the rail unions agree, surely we should listen.

Claire Baker said that the status quo is not an option. She is correct. Neil Bibby has had since 2014, when the Smith commission conversations took place, to decide what the alternative should be. In his last minute and a half, will he at least give an indication of what model he proposes for the British Transport Police?

We must listen to the concerns of officers, staff, train operators and rail unions. We have to go back to the drawing board and look at the matter again. The Government is making a big mistake.

When the Justice Committee took evidence at stage 1, the majority of respondents raised concerns about the terms, conditions and pension rights of BTP officers and staff. The First Minister said in the chamber last week that assurances would be given to the workforce, and those assurances have been reiterated today. However, no agreement has yet been reached. I hear what the minister says but, as recently as last Tuesday, the BTP Federation wrote to MSPs to say that staff associations were yet to be included in any discussions. Our police officers are saying that the Scottish Government and civil servants are paying lip service to that crucial aspect of the process.

Despite the amendments that were agreed to today, which are welcome, the rail unions will still strongly oppose the bill and the merger. They have warned that, because of what they call the Scottish Government’s intransigence, there could be industrial action on our railways. That would be action not just to protect jobs and conditions but to protect a service that makes an invaluable contribution to public safety.

Nigel Goodband, the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, wrote to the transport minister, personally warning that it would be “imprudent” to go ahead with the integration when the terrorist threat is severe and transport hubs are a target. He said:

“BTP Federation firmly believes that the travelling public and the railway staff in Scotland will be safer if they continue to be policed by officers of the BTP ... in the face of such a threat.”

Those are grave and serious warnings. It would be unthinkable that those warnings should be ignored. Police officers should be focused on protecting the public and doing their job, not implementing a merger that nobody wants.

Please stop there. I am letting you stop at that point—I am sorry, but we are very short of time.


I, too, will be supporting the bill at stage 3 and the integration of railway policing into the overall structure of Police Scotland. I will be doing so for two main reasons.

The proposal is not change for change’s sake, as has been alleged from the Opposition benches; it is about enhancing the provision of policing on our railways while maintaining the specialism of BTP and making it part of Police Scotland’s holistic service.

Integrating BTP with Police Scotland is an opportunity to improve railway policing in Scotland. Integration will enhance railway policing by allowing direct access to the specialist operational resources of Police Scotland.

As Assistant Chief Constable Higgins told the committee:

“It is a sensible move ... Police Scotland currently looks after the entire transport network in Scotland ... so it is sensible for it to look after the rail network as well.”

He also spoke about the extra capacity that will be available, stating:

“the reality is that Police Scotland is the second-largest force in the United Kingdom, with some 17,000 officers and assets that are simply not available to the British Transport Police D division. Although at present we will deploy those assets on request, they will be routinely deployed should integration take place. That will lead to greater effectiveness and efficiency and, in my view, a greater ability to deploy more resource to locations that currently do not receive”

such support. Furthermore, Chief Constable Crowther from the British Transport Police stated that, operationally,

“Police Scotland has the full range of specialist capabilities available to it”

and added:

“Police Scotland has everything that it needs”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 4 and 6.]

to police the railway in Scotland.

The Opposition has alleged in the debate that the operators oppose the proposed legislation. Graham Meiklejohn of TransPennine Express said:

“There is an opportunity for things to improve in Scotland and for the force in England and Wales then to up its game and improve, as well.”

He also said:

“There is an opportunity for improved efficiency.”

Darren Horley from Virgin Trains said of the bill:

“From a Virgin Trains point of view, it is an opportunity.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 21 March 2017; c 21, 26 and 9.]

Therefore, it is not correct to state that operators are solely against the proposed legislation—that is simply not true if one refers to the evidence that the committee received.

The bill provides for an integrated approach to transport infrastructure policing, bringing railway policing alongside the policing of roads, seaports, airports and border policing. It is right to integrate it in that way.

In the time that remains, I will focus on maintaining the specialism of railway policing under the bill. At committee, it was said that it was important to maintain and enhance the specialist unit through the service that is envisaged, and also to maintain the ethos. I was assured by the cabinet secretary that

“the current ethos”


“to be recognised and maintained and taken forward in how railway policing is delivered.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 28 March 2017; c 20.]

Assistant Chief Constable Higgins also assured us that

“there is a very strong ethos in the BTP, which we would want to retain ... One of Police Scotland’s strengths is not necessarily our single ethos or aim of keeping people safe, but the multiple cultures that we have within the organisation.”

He stated further that it is

“our intention to have a bespoke transport unit within Police Scotland”,

which he would view as

“sitting alongside ... road policing”,

and there

“would be two separate entities under that overarching command.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 7 March 2017; c 10-11, 32.]

That reassures me that the specialist railway policing function will be maintained within the broader Police Scotland structure.

The minister also assured us on issues of abstraction during the stage 1 debate, and I am grateful and reassured by that, too.

On that point, I conclude—on time.

Thank you very much for your co-operation, Mr Macpherson.


I am a former police officer and a long-time supporter of the BTP being integrated with the police in Scotland. As my colleague Stewart Stevenson said, the public do not differentiate in a way that some of us might imagine they do.

I accept that people on both sides of the argument hold very strong views. Many members have expressed such views and recounted the views of other people. I must say that I thought that the speech by the Conservative spokesperson, Oliver Mundell, was shocking. He seems fair chuffed with himself and was probably on social media professing his good work, but this is a debating chamber, and the idea is that we debate the issues. I am very happy to concede time for Mr Mundell to stand up and apologise to the police officers that he slighted during his speech.

Language is important. I have heard words such as “dangerous” being used, but there is nothing dangerous about Police Scotland. Of course there are challenges in any part of the public sector, but there are no dangerous practices being followed in Police Scotland. People talk about the legislation being “bulldozed through”—that has been said repeatedly, and it is unhelpful. If anyone has a complaint about the agreed parliamentary process not being followed, I would expect an objection to go, quite rightly, to the Presiding Officer.

We want to have an informed debate. There are members who have views that strongly oppose mine who have contributed to the debate in an inoffensive way. I ask Mr Mundell to reflect on many of his comments.

When I started in the police, the ethos was guard, watch and patrol to protect life and property. In 1976, I was at the same college as officers from the British Transport Police. We all went back to our respective forces and had our local procedures. As I was an officer in Leith, those were in the Edinburgh Corporation Order, whereas for many others it was the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892—yes, I am that old. For transport officers, the legislation was very much the same as they work under now, and there was additional training.

There were differences in the funding models and, more importantly, there were differences in the accountability models. What has changed significantly since 1976 is the accountability of police in Scotland. I do not see how anyone could take offence at the idea that in Scotland there should be parliamentary scrutiny of those who could deny a citizen their liberty. Indeed, I say to the cabinet secretary and the minister that I would like to see that scrutiny extended. As they know, I have concerns about some of the United Kingdom forces and their accountability in Scotland. I do not think that there should be an issue about accountability.

I accept that BTP officers genuinely have a heartfelt view about the ethos that they follow, which is about safety and keeping the system moving—I absolutely get that. A cash imperative is being introduced, and it will be with Police Scotland to ensure that the contract is met, but no one in their right mind is going to suggest that that will alter the working model. Indeed, as I have suggested, perhaps Police Scotland can learn something from the very fine way in which BTP officers and their support staff deal with tragic fatalities on the line. They can turn things around very quickly, whereas, as we know, our major trunk roads are sometimes held up for a considerable time.

There are challenges with terms and conditions—of course there are. My and my party’s support were absolutely conditional on there being no detriment to terms and conditions. I must say that the contribution from the British Transport Police Federation last week was not particularly helpful, never mind that it contained some inaccuracies—actuarial projections around pensions and the changed status are very challenging. I have taken reassurance, and I encourage others to take reassurance, on that; and I encourage people to be supportive of police officers as they move forward in an integrated service.


Clearly the bill has not had its critics to seek. The majority of respondents to the Government’s initial consultation ranged from sceptical to hostile. The committee’s call for evidence attracted responses that were similarly if not more sceptical and hostile. However, listening to Ben Macpherson and John Finnie just now, one would think that the centralisation of the police service in Scotland over the past few years had been a marvellous success. Given John Finnie’s experience, I am very surprised—

Will the member take an intervention?

I am 30 seconds into a four-minute speech; I do not have time, I am afraid.

Although Scottish Liberal Democrats were prepared to see whether concerns could be addressed at stages 2 and 3, it became abundantly obvious that that would not happen. Ministers and others made up their minds long ago—John Finnie said it again—that they were right and the majority of those in the sector, including British Transport Police officers, staff and the railway operators, were all wrong. That is neither sensible nor healthy, although it is characteristic.

From the outset, ministers have argued that the bill simply implements the will of the Smith commission, but that is nonsense; it reflects the SNP’s interpretation of the Smith commission. Merger was only one of three options that the BTP working group identified, and it was the one with the highest degree of risk and the one that was opposed by most stakeholders. Sadly, no attempt was made by the Government or others to seek views on the options that would have minimised disruption to a service that is operating efficiently, effectively and in a highly professional manner across the UK, as the committee heard time and again.

The failure to consider or consult on other options undermines the ministers’ case, as do concerns about how the specialist expertise of the British Transport Police can be maintained and developed post merger; about how railway policing agreements are likely to operate, how costs will be assigned and how potential disputes will be resolved; and about Police Scotland’s ability to take on the additional functions and responsibilities while still facing very serious challenges as a result of the botched centralisation that this Government has driven through. All along, ministers’ response to those concerns has been to minimise or reject, rather than to address and allay.

In fairness, given the ill-conceived nature of the proposals, both in content and timing, the ministers might have made the best of a bad job; but it remains the case that it is a bad job of their own making. In large part, that goes to the heart of the amendment that I sought to get accepted earlier this afternoon. If the flaws in the approach that the Government is taking cannot be addressed in the time that is available for Parliament to consider the bill, the only responsible thing to do is to delay its implementation. The case for such a delay is strengthened by what now appear to be delays in the work of the inspectorate in respect of the British Transport Police.

If this minority Government and its Green partners still choose to reject such a delay, as they have; if they prefer instead to plough on with the dismantling of the British Transport Police and its merger into Police Scotland, based on political ideology rather than practical insight; and if they refuse to accept the serious misgivings that continue to exist in the sector and among the wider public, there is only one sensible course of action for this Parliament: to reject the bill. That is what Scottish Liberal Democrats will do at decision time today.

I thank Maurice Corry and Fulton MacGregor for accepting a time cut to two minutes each to enable both gentlemen to speak.


I oppose the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill that the Scottish Government has introduced. The SNP has decided to tear up the British Transport Police, an established British specialist policing unit, despite the fact that the model is successful. The deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police stated:

“We have not been able to identify any operational or economic benefits”

in merging with Police Scotland. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Why did the Scottish Government go down the road of what the British Transport Police Authority has described as the “most complex” option? Why did it not follow the simpler option, as set out in the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto, which would save time and money and lead to an improved level of accountability to Parliament?

I urge members to reject the merger. Clear operational issues will arise, as our late colleague Alex Johnstone first highlighted in 2015. We face the ridiculous possibility of BTP officers having to get off a train before Scotland to be replaced by officers from the single Scottish force. If we reject the merger, we can avoid the security risks that the SNP plan threatens to cause. The chief executive of the BTPA stated that the authority has identified “several hundred” security risks that the merger will cause, so it is not a very sensible thing to do in these times of security uncertainties.

The experience of the Dutch railways also shows that

“the withdrawal of a dedicated railway police service and integration with the national police force can lead to a loss of specialism”,

leading to less effective policing and increased danger for commuters.

The lack of support for the bill from the public, the police and the railway operators is clear. We in this chamber should listen to them and reject the bill.


I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate today, and I thank you for allowing me to speak at all, Presiding Officer, even though my time has been cut.

As a member of the Justice Committee, I pay tribute to all of my fellow committee members and those who gave evidence during our scrutiny of the bill. Like my colleagues, I will be pleased to support the bill at stage 3 today.

It is always worth remembering that the devolution of the BTP was agreed by all parties through the Smith commission. It has also been Scottish Government policy for some time, and I believe that the integration of the British Transport Police into Police Scotland will provide a more integrated and effective approach to infrastructure policing in Scotland and will ensure accountability to the people of Scotland.

My time has been cut, so I will not stick to what I had originally planned to say, but I would like to talk about Oliver Mundell’s comments. Most people who have mentioned them have said that they were surprised by them, as was I. That is because, during committee meetings, Mr Mundell has always worked hard to gain consensus. His outburst today was rather surprising and was more akin to the approach taken by his colleagues who sat on the committee previously. For him to say that the SNP is carrying on with the policy for constitutional reasons is totally absurd. Indeed, given what Mairi Evans and the minister told us today about Conservative policy down south, on the contrary, it is Mr Mundell’s party that has based its position—which is that the bill should not go ahead—on constitutional lines. I was disappointed by Mr Mundell’s contribution today, but I am sure that he will seek to work with us going forward.

I have only two minutes in which to speak, so I will simply say that I support the motion.


The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill is unnecessary and unwanted. Along with colleagues on these benches, I warned that the bill is an example of the Scottish Government attempting to fix something that is not broken. There is little support for this bill from those who are involved in the operation of our rail industry or the officers on the ground who protect passengers on a daily basis.

Due to the limited time available to speak today, I will not be able to cover points that were made by my colleagues Neil Bibby and Claire Baker or by others across the chamber. The lack of time is possibly indicative of the rushed nature of the bill, which the British Transport Police Federation has expressed concerns about. It is worth repeating the many concerns that have been raised during the passage of the legislation.

Scottish Labour does not support the principles of this bill. The integration of the British Transport Police was not part of the Smith commission. We agreed to devolving the function of railway policing through the Smith commission, but there was no agreement about what that devolution would look like, and no party had a manifesto commitment to integrate the British Transport Police into Police Scotland.

We lodged amendments during stage 3 proceedings in order to enhance parts of the bill that unions wanted to be improved, because it is crucial that the real concerns that unions raised be dealt with in the bill. However, we will still vote against the bill at decision time, regardless of what the final bill looks like, as it is not in the interests of rail passengers, rail workers, rail operators or the skilled and experienced staff of the British Transport Police.

Last week, Nigel Goodband, chair of the British Transport Police Federation, sent MSPs a stark and important letter highlighting serious concerns about the bill’s process to date and its knock-on effect on rail safety. We know that the SNP does not like to listen to Opposition parties, but it should listen to those who know more about the safety and security of rail transport—they are the transport and policing experts, not Humza Yousaf, as he himself rightly conceded last year.

During the committee’s evidence sessions with stakeholders, we heard that the potential for skilled and experienced BTP officers to leave the service was real. Now we have Mr Goodband writing to MSPs to tell us that some have already sought transfers and that more plan to do so if BTP is integrated with Police Scotland. The uncertainty attributed to this bill is directly the responsibility of the Scottish Government, which has produced an unnecessary bill.

The Scottish Government is making the wrong choice by progressing the merger. The TSSA, the RMT, ASLEF and the British Transport Police Federation all oppose it—as I warned at stage 1, for serious and justifiable reasons, as Claire Baker and Neil Bibby have also pointed out already today. The TSSA believes that the merger is being pushed by a political agenda—not one for the safety and security of our rail network.

This is the last chance to stop and think about the wider range of options that were—and still are—available to the Government. That is why we call on the Scottish Government to pause its plans for Parliament, and to reject the bill. Let us use the summer recess to consult fully on all options for the devolution of the functions of the BTP. Let us work with the industry, the staff and the public and reach a consensus on the future of railway policing.

I urge members across the chamber to vote against the bill, as Scottish Labour will do at decision time tonight.


It affords me no pleasure to speak in the stage 3 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill, given that it is self-evident that, at the conclusion of the debate, the SNP, with the support of the Greens, will vote the bill through.

That is despite warnings from stakeholders that the merging of the BTP into Police Scotland will pose risks to security. To quote the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation:

“The railway network can ill afford to have a lower standard of security and protection at a time when the threat from terrorism remains severe.”

Those warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Why?

By way of background, it is true, as Fulton MacGregor said, that the bill stems from an agreement by all parties represented on the Smith commission that

“The functions of the British Transport Police in Scotland will be a devolved matter.”

In response to that agreement, the BTP and the BTPA then set out a paper with three options for the proposal to be accomplished. They were: first, administrative devolution only; secondly, a statutorily devolved model of governance and accountability, with the BTPA retaining responsibility for railway policing in Scotland; and, thirdly, full integration of the BTP into Police Scotland.

The Scottish Government has considered only the last option. Just as it did with the ill-conceived named person legislation, it has dogmatically stuck to that option as a consequence of an SNP manifesto pledge. In doing so, it has totally ignored evidence from stakeholders about the potentially dangerous consequences of full integration. That has started with the expertise lost with the exodus, which is already beginning, of experienced BTP Scotland officers as a result of the complete failure of the Scottish Government to give those officers guarantees regarding jobs, pensions and pay.

Both Liam Kerr and Mary Fee referred to the open letter to all members of the Scottish Parliament that was sent last week, in which the British Transport Police Federation stated that

“officers are already seeking transfers or leaving policing altogether”

and that

“we believe the Scottish Government and civil servants are paying lip service to this crucial aspect of the process.”

The letter plainly states that the British Transport Police Federation

“still has no confirmation even on the legal mechanism the Scottish Government intends to use to transfer BTP officers into Police Scotland ... our questions have gone unanswered by the Scottish Government.”

That is an indefensible situation to be at during stage 3 of the legislative process.

Added to those concerns are issues highlighted by the rail operators, which fund the BTP in Scotland and include ScotRail, Virgin Trains and CrossCountry. The concerns include the cost of training Police Scotland officers, which the committee recommended should not be borne by the rail operators; the loss of BTP specialisms, such as reducing cable theft and assessing bomb threats, which help to minimise the impact of incidents on a UK-wide rail network; and the fact that Police Scotland officers will require personal track safety certificates, which both Douglas Ross and I addressed at stage 2 and Neil Bibby’s amendment sought to address at stage 3.

Let me put that in perspective. According to BTP’s written submission, over a 10-year period, 2.5 million unattended items were assessed by BTP officers using carefully developed procedures. Furthermore, our rail network is UK-wide, with 8 million passenger journeys and 2 million tonnes of freight crossing the border each year. The BTP Superintendents Association Branch told the committee that

“the introduction of dual controls at the border with different bomb threat categorisation arrangements”

would introduce “an element of risk”.

The bill is the product of the increasingly discredited scrutiny process—those who police and run the railways have concluded that the security of passengers and rail staff is being put at risk in pursuit of rushed and ill-considered legislation. That is why the Scottish Conservatives did not support the general principles of the bill at stage 1 and will be voting against the bill this evening.


I am grateful for the contributions to the stage 3 debate on the Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill. Like some other members, I will pick up on points that were made by Oliver Mundell. Not only were his remarks ill-considered, but the way in which he attacked Police Scotland officers was shameful, given the sterling work those officers do for us day in, day out, right across the country.

Debate is important, and I accept that Oliver Mundell might not agree with the Scottish Government’s approach to railway policing, but Mr Mundell tried to make his case by slagging off Police Scotland officers for the work that they are doing. They deserve an apology, and I hope that Oliver Mundell will reflect on that after the debate. There are police officers who have just been stood down, following the threat level being changed to critical, whose rest days had been cancelled. They have to keep our communities and major transport hubs safe—they do that to keep people like Oliver Mundell safe. To slag them off, when they carry out that work, ill befits someone on the Conservatives’ front bench.

What has amazed me in the debate is the sheer hypocrisy of the Conservative Party. It lists what it sees as concerns about the integration of British Transport Police into Police Scotland but will not acknowledge that it plans to abolish BTP by creating an infrastructure police force in the UK, which would bring together the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police and BTP. That was not just in the UK Conservatives’ manifesto; it was in the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto, too.

Members: Oh!

This is a party that is quite happy to stand here and lecture us about the approach that we should take in Scotland but is not prepared to stand up and defend its approach in England and Wales. That demonstrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the Conservative Party. The reality is that the Scottish Conservatives take their orders on such issues from London, and certainly not from Scotland.

The Conservative Party wants to lecture us on policing and the associated dangers. One party that I will not take such a lecture from is a party that cut 20,000 police officers in England and Wales, which resulted in the military having to go on to the streets when the threat level was critical, because there were too few armed police officers. The Conservatives should not come here and lecture us on policing, given their track record in England and Wales.

I turn to issues raised by other members. Some constructive contributions have been made, in contrast to the childish point scoring that we have had from the Conservative Party. Claire Baker raised the issue of the timeframe for taking forward the legislation. Let us keep it in mind that the Scottish Government set out its position on the integration of the BTP into Police Scotland back in 2011. We set it out again in 2013 and in 2014, so it should come as no surprise. In our submission to the Smith commission, we set out that integration was the approach that we wanted to take.

Members have raised concerns about the parliamentary process and how quickly the bill has moved through Parliament. Surprisingly, the convener of the Justice Committee—the committee that scrutinised the bill—described it as a “discredited scrutiny process”. The timeframe for that process is a matter for Parliament; it is not set by us. We introduced the bill to Parliament and it was for the parliamentary committee and the parliamentary process to consider those issues. We have not rushed anything through and, as a minority, we have had to build support for the bill among other parties. Therefore, the idea that we have railroaded through the bill is simply not correct and, given that we have accepted amendments from the Labour Party today, nor is the idea that we are not listening to anyone.

The British Transport Police Federation said:

“there has been no acknowledgement of our views or those of the police officers whom we represent, because a simple decision has been taken that there is only one option—that of full integration.”—[Official Report, Justice Committee, 14 March 2017; c 36-7.]

I will tell the cabinet secretary who he is not listening to—he is not listening to British Transport Police officers, who think that the bill is a huge mistake that will come back to bite the Government.

We have set out our policy clearly on the integration of railway policing into Police Scotland, and we have offered a triple lock to staff in the BTP to give them assurance about the future.

One of the key reasons for integrating railway policing into Police Scotland is to create a single command structure. Members have raised issues about how we will deal with counterterrorism matters. Who provided the armed policing at our transport hubs over the past couple of weeks? It was Police Scotland. Who provides the specialist counterterrorism policing in Scotland on our railways? It is Police Scotland, alongside the specialist road policing, airport policing, armed policing, border policing, underwater policing and counterterrorism policing more generally. All of that is delivered in Scotland by Police Scotland. The benefit that we get from an integrated force in Scotland is that we have a single command structure in dealing with such matters. If anything, recent events have demonstrated the benefits of having a single command structure, which gives the ability to respond much more effectively should further such events occur. That is one of the key benefits that will come from delivering integrated policing through the integration of BTP.

The bill will deliver a level of scrutiny and accountability in relation to railway policing that we have never had previously in this country. Now that a cross-party decision has been made to devolve the responsibility, we are creating provisions that will ensure not only that trade unions and others have a say in how railway policing is delivered in Scotland but that the Parliament will have oversight in a way that simply has never happened in the past. That will ensure that railway policing is delivered in a way that we consider to be appropriate for our railways in Scotland.

The bill will deliver more effective and better policing in Scotland and will create a safer Scotland, and I call on all members to support it.