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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 29, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 29 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Apprenticeship Week, Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018 to 2022 , UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Economic Growth

The rate of economic growth in Scotland is a third of the rate in the UK as a whole. Also, the Scottish National Party’s economic plan has been lost in the weeds thanks to a myriad of different strategies, advisory groups and bodies that are now cluttering the landscape. Does the First Minister think that those two facts are connected?

On the landscape, of course the Scottish Government has recently established the new strategic board to better align the work of our enterprise and skills agencies. I seem to recall that many aspects of that board were opposed by other parties in Parliament. We want to ensure that, through that strategic board, which is ably chaired by Nora Senior, we get maximum impact and value for the around £2 billion that we spend every year on enterprise and skills.

The point about economic growth is interesting. I suspect that Ruth Davidson has partly been prompted in her questioning by yesterday’s Fraser of Allander institute report. I am sure that she paid it very close attention because, for the past number of months now, she has hitched her wagon to the claim that growth in Scotland is projected to be lower than that in the rest of the UK. However, yesterday’s Fraser of Allander institute report shows that its growth projections for Scotland for next year and the year after are actually higher than the Office for Budget Responsibility’s projections for the rest of the UK, and that projected unemployment is lower than that for the UK. I suggest that, when we add that to the fact that productivity growth has been higher in Scotland over the past decade and the fact that our international goods exports are growing at a faster rate than those in the rest of the UK, Ruth Davidson’s arguments are simply shown to be nonsense and fall to pieces altogether.

Particularly today, which marks a year to go until Ruth Davidson’s party drags us out of the EU against our will, she has no credibility on the economy for as long as she supports a hard Brexit. She cannot lecture others on economic growth when she supports a policy that all the experts say will hit growth in this country by more than £2,000 per person. Ruth Davidson’s credibility on the economy is zero.

I am delighted that the First Minister mentioned the Fraser of Allander institute’s report on the Scottish Government. If the Presiding Officer will permit me the time, I will quickly run through the list that it produced setting out the Scottish Government’s streamlined plan for the economy. There is an economic growth strategy, a digital strategy, an energy strategy, a circular economy strategy, a climate change plan, a trade and investment strategy, a labour market strategy, a social enterprise strategy and a hydro nation strategy. There is a strategy action plan for women in enterprise, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics strategy, a manufacturing action plan, a youth employment strategy, an innovation action plan, a national islands plan, an agenda for cities and, finally, an Arctic strategy. Those are overseen by a grand total of nine Government agencies and 32 local authorities and, in turn, they are informed by at least 18 further advisory boards.

Let us look at what the Fraser of Allander institute says. It says:

“Back in 2007, the Scottish Government promised a streamlined and effective policy landscape for the economy. Ten years later it may be time to look at this again.”

That is the institute just being polite, is it not?

Ruth Davidson mentioned the Arctic; it is certainly true to say that Scotland is going cold on the Tories. That is the case.

Ruth Davidson lists a number of strategies. The women in enterprise strategy, for example, is extremely important. We know that if women were to start businesses in Scotland at the same rate as men do, it would be worth billions of pounds to our economy. Having listed the strategies, will she perhaps, when she stands up to ask her next question, list the ones that she wants the Scottish Government to scrap? I would be keen to hear her answer that question.

The strategic board is all about making sure that all that work is aligned. I think that Nora Senior, who is chairing the board, will do a very good job, and the board is already hard at work.

Ruth Davidson wants to quote the Fraser of Allander institute. Let me quote some more from the institute’s report:

“Scotland has a strong and prosperous economy”.

That is on page 4.

“Scotland retains clear economic strengths.”

That is on page 24.

“Scotland’s labour market has held up ... well despite a challenging growth environment.”

That is on page 16, as is:

“Unemployment ... remains low by historical standards”.

On page 4, again, the institute says:

“Scottish exports have grown relatively strongly in 2017.”

As I said, the Fraser of Allander projections for growth for Scotland are higher next year and the year after than the OBR’s projections for the UK are, which seems to hole Ruth Davidson’s argument entirely below the waterline.

I come back to what is possibly the most important quotation in the report. It is on page 4 again, if Ruth Davidson wants to look it up. As I said—and I know that Ruth Davidson does not like hearing this—it is particularly relevant today. It is:

“Brexit remains the biggest challenge on the horizon.”

As long as Ruth Davidson is supporting a policy that is going to damage growth in the economy, she has no credibility. Perhaps when she gets to her feet in a few seconds’ time she will tell us whether she will go back to her old position of supporting membership of the European Union. If she will not go back to that position, will she go back to her old position of retaining membership of the single market? If she does not, I say again that she has zero credibility on the economy.

The truth of it is clear. If strategies and press releases were enough to grow the Scottish economy, we would be steaming ahead by now, but as it is, we are trapped in a Scottish National Party slow lane.

I know that the First Minister likes to point the finger at Brexit for everything. She has done that twice already today. How can she explain this, then? Not only is growth for Scotland running at a third of the rate of that of the UK but small business confidence in Scotland is at minus 18, whereas in the rest of the UK it is at plus 6—a 24-point gap.

The First Minister blames Brexit for everything. Is it just conceivably possible that our problems lie slightly closer to home?

I can understand why Ruth Davidson wants to ignore what I have pointed out twice, which is that the economic growth projections in the Fraser of Allander institute’s report, for next year and the year after, are actually higher for Scotland than the OBR’s are for the rest of the UK.

I am not sure whether Ruth Davidson is prepared to lay the reasons for that at Theresa May’s door, but she wants to ignore the elephant in the room, which is Brexit, so let me remind her of some of the figures. It is simply not credible for a member to come to the chamber and say that they are really, really concerned about economic growth when they know—as Ruth Davidson does—what the figures show that the impact of Brexit is going to be. If we fall back into World Trade Organization trading rules, we know that that will hit our economy to the tune of more than £2,000 per person, with an 8.5 per cent hit to our gross domestic product. A free trade agreement with the EU would reduce growth by 6.1 per cent, which is £1,600 per person. European Economic Area membership—the least damaging option—would still hit growth by 2.7 per cent, or £700 per person.

Does Ruth Davidson want to tell us which of those options she supports? All of them hit growth in our economy. It is the Tories who are taking us out of the EU, and as long as that is the case, they have no credibility when they come to the chamber and talk about economic growth—and everybody out there knows it.

Here is where we stand. Scotland is economically underperforming now. The First Minister says that Brexit is to blame, but there is still a year to go. We have had 10 wasted years under an SNP Government.

This is the Government’s record. We have the lowest rate of business growth in the UK. Productivity in Scotland is at the lowest level for eight years. For the next three years, we have the weakest projected economic growth of any country, not just in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development but in the European Union.

Is it not time that the First Minister stopped blaming Brexit and looked to herself to get Scotland’s economy moving?

Let us look at Scotland’s performance. I will not repeat the Fraser of Allander report’s points about growth for the fourth time. Perhaps when Ruth Davidson gets the chance, she can go and read them.

Let us look at some of the other aspects of growth. Productivity growth has been higher in Scotland during the past decade than it has been in the rest of the UK. Figures from the past year show that international goods exports are growing at a faster rate than those in any other part of the UK, at 19 per cent. Unemployment is close to a record low. For 11 of the past 13 months, unemployment in Scotland has either been lower than or the same as it is in the rest of the UK. Youth employment is at a higher rate than it is in the rest of the UK. Female employment is at a higher rate than it is in the rest of the UK.

Scotland’s economy is strong and we are determined to make it even stronger. However, we are against the challenge of ideologically-obsessed Tory Brexiteers who want to rip our country out of the EU against our will. That is the reality.


Teachers (Industrial Action)

Three years ago, the First Minister told the Daily Record that education was her top priority. She said:

“Over the next months and years, making sure the Scottish education system becomes, genuinely, one of the best in the world will be a driving and defining priority of my Government.”

How does the prospect of Scotland’s teachers taking industrial action because of this Government’s mishandling of their pay and workload help with that aim?

Clearly it does not, which is why we do not want to be in that situation. That is why we became the first Government anywhere in the UK and, when we take the national health service out of the equation, the only Government in the UK, including the Welsh Government, that has lifted the 1 per cent public sector pay cap.

Pay negotiations are under way. In the case of teachers, those are tripartite negotiations that involve the unions, the councils as employers, and the Government. The Government is involved in the negotiations. I hope that they will continue constructively, and that we reach an end result that avoids the scenario that Richard Leonard has outlined and makes sure that our teachers get the decent pay rise that they deserve, and that we can all get on with the rest of the detailed work on raising attainment in our schools.

I should point out that I did not just say what I said three years ago in the Daily Record; if Richard Leonard had been listening, he would have heard me say it countless times since.

The fact is that, under this Government, teachers have seen their pay fall in value by 25 per cent in real terms. They have gone from being among the best-paid teachers in the developed world to among the worst. They have seen 3,500 of their colleagues disappear from the classroom. They are now teaching some of the biggest classes in the western world. Is it any wonder therefore that so many teacher training places lie vacant? Is it any wonder that Scotland’s teachers feel undervalued? Is it any wonder that they are saying that now is the time for action? The First Minister cannot close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children in our schools with underpaid and overworked teachers.

I have recently spent a few mornings on the picket line outside Scotland’s universities. I do not want to find myself on the picket line outside Scotland’s schools, but if I have to, I will. I value education and I value our teachers. What will the First Minister do to show that she values our teachers?

With my colleagues in the Scottish Government, I have lifted the 1 per cent public sector pay cap. That was the starting point for the tripartite negotiations that I have spoken about.

It is a bit rich, is it not, for Richard Leonard to come here and ask me those questions—of course, he is perfectly entitled to do so—when his own Labour colleagues in Wales have not done what the Scottish Government has done? They have not lifted the 1 per cent public sector pay cap, but we have done that because, uniquely among Governments across the United Kingdom, we recognise that that pay restraint cannot continue. That pay restraint was designed to save jobs during the recession, but we recognise that, with the rising cost of living, that is not sustainable. That is why we have taken the action of lifting the 1 per cent public sector pay cap, and we will now go into negotiations not just with teachers but with the health service unions, to ensure that our public sector workers are properly rewarded and that we get on with the job of improving the quality of our vital public services.

That is what I am doing, and I will continue to get on with that job. Richard Leonard can go and spend his time in whatever way he sees fit.

This is urgent. The pay review is due to conclude with a pay rise being implemented in April, which is this weekend. The First Minister sits at the negotiating table. Local authorities have had their budgets cut year on year. The only thing that can stop our schools facing industrial action, and our children’s education facing disruption, is the Scottish Government finally paying teachers what they are worth. If education really is the First Minister’s driving and defining priority, will she agree to fund a proper, fair pay rise for our teachers?

Local government budgets are being increased in real terms in the coming financial year—I should remind Richard Leonard that he and his Labour colleagues voted against that in the budget. Again, it is a bit rich for him to come here and ask me to do things that he and his colleagues, here in Scotland and elsewhere across the UK, do not do when they have the opportunity.

As I said, there are real-terms increases for councils. Also, as we have discussed many times in the chamber, £750 million is being directed to our attainment fund over this session of Parliament; much of that money goes directly to headteachers to spend on measures to raise attainment.

I make no apology for the fact that we will take forward the discussions on teachers pay in the proper way, through the tripartite negotiation framework that is in place. As Richard Leonard rightly says, the Government is a part of that, and we will take forward those negotiations in good faith. I would have thought that Richard Leonard, as a former trade union official, would welcome that commitment to on-going proper negotiation.

There are a couple of constituency questions, the first of which is from Fulton MacGregor.


TOM Group Ltd (Administration)

I am grateful that you have allowed me to ask this question, Presiding Officer, in place of my colleague, Alex Neil, who is unable to do so as he is at a funeral.

Following yesterday’s announcement that TOM Vehicle Rental Ltd in Airdrie is to close with the loss of more than 400 jobs, many of them in my constituency of Coatbridge and Chryston, will the First Minister outline what support she and the Scottish Government are providing to ensure that those jobs are saved?

I was extremely concerned to learn that
TOM Group Ltd has entered administration. I know that this will be an extremely difficult time for the employees of that company and their families, and for the local community that is affected by the decision. Scottish Enterprise has contacted the administrators to understand whether it can provide any assistance, and I noted remarks from the administrator regarding the potential to find a buyer for Alistair Fleming Ltd in Kilmarnock, which may see the employees of that subsidiary transfer to new owners.

In addition to working positively where we can with the administrators, our partnership action for continuing employment team yesterday met employees at the base in Airdrie. Arrangements are under way for a PACE event to take place next Friday, 6 April, to which all employees will be invited. By providing skills development and employability support, PACE aims to help anyone who is affected by redundancy to get back into work as quickly as possible. I can assure Fulton MacGregor, and of course Alex Neil, who is the constituency member, that the Scottish Government will continue to take whatever action we can to support both the company and, crucially, the employees affected.


NHS Ayrshire and Arran (Deficit)

The First Minister will be aware of NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s projected year-end deficit of £23 million, which was caused by efficiency savings not being delivered and, more understandably, by winter pressures through December, January and February and the need to provide bed space and local doctors to meet the highest demand rate in Scotland at that time. Notwithstanding the efficiency savings not being met, will the First Minister support NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s request for loan funding or brokerage—to use the technical term—to cover that deficit?

I understand that the matter is already being discussed with NHS Ayrshire and Arran and there is a commitment from the Government, in principle, to provide brokerage support to deal with the situation that John Scott has outlined. I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport would be happy to update him when discussions conclude.


Trade Union Facility Time (West Dunbartonshire Council)

On the day that the First Minister was meeting the Scottish Trades Union Council to discuss fair work, Scottish National Party councillors in West Dunbartonshire Council were cutting jobs and trade union facility time. Does the First Minister agree with that attack on trade unions and does she believe that those actions fit with the fair work agenda that she is so right to promote?

It is for local councils to take decisions as they think appropriate. However, that particular case was raised by trade unions in that meeting—rightly and understandably—and I made clear to them, as I make clear publicly in Parliament today, my support for properly resourced facility time, not just because that is right for trade unions but because it helps employers and is good for positive industrial relations. I saw that in the health service when I was health secretary and that principle also applies more widely.

I consider the cutting of facility time by any employers to be a false economy. I encourage all employers—local authorities or any other public or private sector employers—to see the value of facility time.


Ayrshire Growth Deal

On a visit to Ayr today, the Prime Minister announced that the United Kingdom Government will formally begin talks with local partners for a new growth deal for Ayrshire. That is after considerable pressure being applied by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown. Patricia Gibson MP led a House of Commons debate on the deal and pressure also came from the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee. The deal is expected to significantly bolster Ayrshire’s economy, create jobs and boost productivity. The First Minister will welcome the announcement, but does she agree that we need a timetable for action, which the Scottish Government and the three Ayrshire councils have sought since 2016, and which we did not get from the Prime Minister this morning?

I agree with that very much. If a commitment to talk about an Ayrshire growth deal is enough for the Tories to cheer, it shows that they do not have very much else to be cheerful about. I welcome the commitment, as far as it goes. However, the time for talking is coming to an end. In Ayrshire, it is time for the Tory Government to put its money where its mouth is. The Scottish Government is ready to do that, but when will the Tories be ready to do that, too?

We have at least matched every growth deal that has been announced so far—in some cases we have more than matched the growth deals. I do not know why the Tories are dragging their feet over my home county of Ayrshire. I hope that we can tie them down to a timetable and replace the warm words that we heard from the Prime Minister this morning with cold hard cash from the Tories. That is what people in Ayrshire want.


Road Equivalent Tariff (Northern Isles)

Last August, the First Minister finally committed to introducing road equivalent tariff on northern isles ferry routes from the summer of 2018—10 years after RET was introduced on west coast routes. However, as we approach the Easter weekend, there is still no sign of the cheaper fares being introduced and, more worryingly still, there is no formal start date. Does the First Minister accept that the on-going lack of clarity is unhelpful, particularly for the islands’ vital tourism sector, which relies heavily on advance bookings over the peak summer period? Will she commit to ensuring that a formal start date for the long overdue introduction of RET on routes serving Orkney and Shetland is announced before Parliament returns after the Easter recess?

I certainly agree with Liam McArthur about the potential of RET. We have seen that potential turn into reality in other parts of Scotland, where it has already been introduced. I will ask Humza Yousaf to write to the member with an update on the timescale and start date. I am sure that he will be very willing to talk to the member further. I am sure that Liam McArthur will bring the matter back to Parliament if he is not satisfied with that answer—but I hope that he will be.


Brexit

It is just a year until the United Kingdom Government proposes to take us out of Europe in defiance not only of how people in Scotland voted but of the facts about the country’s best interests. As ever more information becomes public about the fundamentally compromised nature of the referendum process, it is hard to believe that the UK Government’s Brexit extremists are not only unwilling to take seriously the questions about the legitimacy of the result but are even prepared to use the sexuality of a whistleblower to discredit him.

Will the First Minister commit to continuing to oppose the Brexit process in principle? If that is done to us and we are dragged out of Europe, will she commit to immediately campaign to get us back in as a full member state?

I do not think that my views on membership of the European Union are any mystery. I oppose Brexit in principle, I do not want us to leave the EU, and I want Scotland to continue to be a proud European nation.

On other aspects of Patrick Harvie’s question, many of the revelations and allegations that we have heard over the past couple of weeks are deeply and profoundly concerning. The outing of the whistleblower by a number 10 member of staff was utterly disgraceful and should be condemned by everybody, and the Prime Minister’s response to that was woefully inadequate.

In the past days, serious questions have been raised about the conduct of the leave campaign. It is clear that I cannot answer those questions, but they merit serious and in-depth investigation.

Today, we are one year from the date when the UK is supposed to leave the European Union, and it is utterly inexplicable and shameful that people do not have any more detailed answers to the questions that they had about the future relationship with the European Union than they had on referendum day. That is largely because we have a deeply divided Tory party that puts its ideological interests ahead of the interests of the country. For as long as that remains the case, the interests of not just Scotland but the whole of the UK will be deeply damaged. That will be the Tory legacy to Scotland and the rest of the UK, and future generations will never forgive the Tories for that.

The Greens will certainly continue to be committed to this country’s European future. We are a European country, and we will continue to be so even if it takes time to get back in.

The Scottish Government’s Brexit legislation at least has better inclusion of environmental principles than the UK legislation has, and the Scottish Government has said that it supports evidence-based policy. However, the Scottish Government does not always like the consequences. Fish are one of the environmental resources that can clearly be managed only on a shared basis among countries. Does the First Minister accept that, without the common fisheries policy, we would not have cod left in the sea or in the shops? Surely the Scottish Government must accept that, whether we are in or out of the European Union, that shared approach to a shared environmental resource will always be necessary.

Over the past number of years, Scottish fishermen have discharged their responsibilities to conservation, and they should be credited for doing that. Equally, what my party and I think is on record. I think that it was back in 2004 that a Scottish National Party MP introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to argue that we should come out of the common fisheries policy. Even taking into account the points that Patrick Harvie has made, the common fisheries policy is not fair to Scottish fishermen. That is why I do not support it.

More generally, Patrick Harvie is right to say that our UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill gives greater protection to the European charter of fundamental rights and to environmental protections, for example. It is possibly because the UK Government knows that the Scottish Government wants to continue to extend such protections that it is still trying a power grab to centralise those powers in Westminster, rather than passing them to exactly where they belong, which is the Scottish Parliament.

There are a couple of supplementaries.


Seasonal Migrant Labour (Agriculture)

The First Minister will be aware of the importance of continuing access to seasonal migrant labour for soft fruit farmers in my constituency and wider Scottish agriculture. On 4 February, on a visit to Angus, Michael Gove promised farmers that there would be “complete clarity” around establishing a seasonal agricultural workers scheme by March. Here we are at the end of March, and there is nothing.

In the past few days, the Conservative chair of Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has accused the Minister of State for Immigration of “fiddling while Rome burns” over this issue. Does the First Minister share my deep concern about the impact that that disgraceful Tory inaction is having on Scottish agriculture?

This is the point at which the Tories in the chamber look at their feet—[Interruption.]—or they make lots of noise just to try to hide their deep embarrassment at what is happening. The lesson of at least the last year—perhaps Ruth Davidson might want to listen to this—is that we cannot trust a single word that Michael Gove says. When his press releases are co-authored by Ruth Davidson, we clearly cannot trust a single word that she says either.

The fact of the matter is that the clarity that was promised by Michael Gove and others has not been delivered. We have no more clarity today than we did on referendum day or on the day article 50 was triggered. That is disgraceful and it matters to people the length and breadth of this country—it matters to people in our rural economy; it matters to people in our financial services sector; and it matters to people in our national health service. Instead of shouting abuse when people have the temerity to raise the issue in the chamber, the Tories should be utterly ashamed of the position that their party has put this country in.


Protection of Mountain Hares

New footage of the sickening slaughter of mountain hares has been reported by the BBC today. Has the fact that the evidence comes from well-regarded animal welfare groups finally convinced the Government that voluntary restraint is sadly lacking on too many Scottish shooting estates? When and with whom will the urgent meetings that the Government is now seeking take place, and when will the Scottish Government introduce new legal protection for this fabulous iconic animal?

I share Alison Johnstone’s concern—and her anger, which is evident in her voice—about some of the images that we are seeing on our screens today. There is real public concern about this iconic species of the Scottish mountains, and that is a concern that we share. Large-scale culling of mountain hares could put their conservation status at risk: that is clearly unacceptable. I know that the pictures to which Alison Johnstone refers will be distressing to many people.

Alison Johnstone asked who will be at the meetings that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has talked about. The meetings will take place with all relevant stakeholders, landowner groups, gamekeepers, and environmental organisations. I make it very clear that the Government is exploring all the available options in order to prevent mass culls of mountain hares. One of those options, of course, is legislation and a licensing scheme. What we are seeing is not acceptable. That is the very clear message from the Government.


Food Banks

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on the role of food banks. (S5F-02192)

My view is very simple; nobody in a nation as rich as Scotland should have to use food banks, so we will continue to challenge the United Kingdom Government welfare cuts that are pushing so many people into crisis and dependency on food banks.

We want to eradicate the need for emergency food support in Scotland. We have established a £1 million a year fair food fund, which supports people, in dignified ways, to reduce and remove reliance on emergency food. Last week, we announced a further £1 million over the next two years to support children who face food insecurity during school holidays.

We should remember, notwithstanding our disgust that anybody has to rely on a food bank, that for some people they are a lifeline right now, so we should also take the opportunity to thank the people who contribute to food banks and the many volunteers and staff who support them.

I thank the First Minister for her answer. There are at least seven food banks in my constituency; one has given out food to 471 children. Although I am sure, as the First Minister has said, that we would all want to record our thanks to the people who support food banks as volunteers or contributors, is not it shameful that there is a need for them? Should not we all say that they should not exist in the first place? Does the First Minister agree that they are a terrible indictment of failing Tory policies, in particular benefits system policies, because their use is being exacerbated by the roll-out of universal credit? There can be no greater indictment than to have children queuing for food parcels.

I absolutely agree with that. The situation is an indictment of austerity policy and it is an indictment of Tory cuts to the social security safety net that should be a valued part of any decent society. People do not have to take my word for that; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that just the benefits freeze

“is the single biggest policy driver”

behind rising poverty, hitting families who are in work and families who are out of work.

The Resolution Foundation estimates that the UK Government’s policies will leave the poorest third of—[Interruption.] Ruth Davidson is chatting away, but she might want to listen to this. The Resolution Foundation estimates that the UK Government’s policies will leave the poorest third of households on average £745 a year worse off by 2022. It also said that

“The coming year ... is set to be the second biggest single year of welfare cuts since the crisis”.

Tory cuts are driving people to food banks across our country. That is utterly disgraceful. We should aspire to be a country in which no child and no family has to rely on food banks. That is why we will continue to do everything that we can through the funds that I have already mentioned. It is why we will continue to argue against the cuts and continue to argue for power over welfare to lie with the Scottish Parliament, so that we can ensure dignity for the poorest people in our society.


British Transport Police (Merger)

5. Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that more than £400,000 was spent on consultants to oversee the British Transport Police merger. (S5F-02196)

The costs of integration that were identified by the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland are small in comparison with the operational costs of transport policing. As is the case with any transformation, the service will require access to specialist skills and expertise, if it is to deliver. The total cost of the contract—£400,000—is split equally between Police Scotland and the British Transport Police Authority, which reflects the partnership approach to integration. That amount covers the total cost of the contract up to 1 April 2019. In securing those skills, we expect the service to demonstrate best use of public funds, with the necessary oversight being provided by the SPA.

That is not the only cost that is spiralling. Last week, the British Transport Police Authority board was told that another £700,000 could be spent on consultants in the next year, and that is just scoping. This morning, there were reports that there is a potential pensions black hole of £100 million. The British Transport Police Federation has proposed an alternative structure that respects devolution of transport policing, but avoids many of the problems. Is not it time to back those plans?

On pensions, it is important to point out again that the Scottish Government has made a very clear commitment to a triple-lock guarantee that will protect the jobs, pay and pensions of British Transport Police officers and staff who transfer to Police Scotland.

The integration is overseen by the joint programme board, which has already done analysis that is leading to re-evaluation of the timescale for integration. It is right and proper that that continues to be overseen by the programme board, which involves the SPA, the British Transport Police Authority, the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government. Decisions will continue to be taken properly and in good order, and we will continue to do everything that we can to engage with the staff who will be affected, as we proceed with integration over the next few months.


Response to “Punish a Muslim” Campaign

To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to reassure and protect communities in response to the “Punish a Muslim” campaign. (S5F-02197)

I utterly condemn this disgusting, so-called campaign. I do so in the strongest possible terms and I am sure that that sentiment is shared by members across this chamber. We must all stand together against such hate and we must be clear that, in Scotland, we will always challenge prejudice and discrimination.

We are engaging with the United Kingdom Government, Police Scotland and the Muslim Council for Scotland to ensure the safety of our valued Muslim communities. On Tuesday, Police Scotland and Scottish Government officials attended the second meeting of the cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia at which the issue was discussed. We are also taking active steps to tackle prejudice and hate, as outlined in my recent correspondence with Anas Sarwar.

I ask members to imagine that they are a Muslim woman or child—I emphasise “woman” because there is a clear gendered nature to racism and Islamophobia—and that they are reading the following:

“Punish a Muslim ... There will be rewards based on actions taken ...

10 points: Verbally abuse a Muslim
25 points: Pull the head scarf off a Muslim ‘woman’
50 points: Throw acid in face of a Muslim
100 points: Beat up a Muslim
250 points: Torture a Muslim using electrocution, skinning, use of a rack
500 points: Butcher a Muslim using gun, knife, vehicle or otherwise
1000 points: Burn a ... mosque”

That is shocking, shameful and sickening. Will the First Minister and, indeed, the Parliament send a message to all our diverse communities that Scotland is as much their country as anyone else’s, that this is their home and that we stand with them, and that we ask them to go about their daily lives more vigilantly, look out for each other and, if they see or suspect anything, report it to the police? Will the First Minister and the Parliament send a message to the haters that an attack on one Scot, regardless of faith or race, is an attack on all Scots and we will never let them win? [Applause.]

In some ways, I do not need to add to Anas Sarwar’s comments, because he has captured everything that needs to be said, but, to be clear that the message comes from me as strongly as it does from anybody else, I will add some comments.

I find it difficult to find words that are adequate to describe or condemn what Anas Sarwar just read out. It is sickening, appalling, disgusting and deeply disturbing. It is all of that and more, but none of that does it justice and it certainly does not do justice to what I feel and what I know we all feel about it. As many of us do, I have many friends and constituents in the Muslim community, so I know and see first hand the impact that such prejudice, hate and discrimination has on them, and I feel deeply for every one of them.

It is very important for us to recognise that the attacks are directed at the Muslim community and not all of us can pretend to know exactly how that feels, but all of us should be absolutely clear when we say that we treat such attacks on the Muslim community or any individual Muslim as attacks on all of us. For all our political divisions and debates, this is one Scotland and, for anybody who chooses to live here—no matter their faith and no matter the country that they come from—this is their country and their home. We value them and we want them here. That is the message that should ring out from this Parliament. Whatever else divides us, let us be absolutely united in saying that the people who perpetrate hate crime—that is what it is—of that nature will never be allowed to win, because Scotland will stand united against them, and that unity will always prevail. [Applause.]


Devolved Powers (Negotiations)

Before I start my question, I associate myself with the comments made by Anas Sarwar and the First Minister.

To ask the First Minister what progress the Scottish Government is making on negotiations regarding devolved powers, in light of it being one year until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. (S5F-02204)

I have been clear that the Government cannot and will not recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill without changes being made to protect devolution. We have already set out to the United Kingdom Government the changes that could resolve the issue, but it still insists on the right to take control of devolved powers without the consent of this Parliament, regardless of its views. We have repeatedly said that we are ready to agree UK-wide frameworks where they will be in Scotland’s interests, but they have to be agreed and not imposed.

Last week, the Parliament overwhelmingly agreed to pass the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, which provides an alternative should an agreement with the UK Government not be reached on changes to the withdrawal bill. However, we continue our discussions with the UK Government and will continue to make every effort to reach a conclusion that respects the devolution settlement. Proper respect for the devolution settlement is absolutely a red line. I have said that before and I will continue to say it.

I welcome the document that the Government published today outlining the concerns of real people on Brexit. Does the First Minister agree that many of those concerns could be addressed by staying in the single market and, therefore, it is time for the UK Government to take seriously the proposals that have been made to keep the UK in the single market and the customs union rather than continuing to put Scotland’s future interests at risk?

Yes, I agree. I want us to stay in the European Union. I could not be clearer about that, but, if the UK is to leave the European Union, there is absolutely no doubt that the least-worst option—if I can describe it in that way—is to remain the single market and the customs union. All the economic analysis shows that that is the least-damaging option, and many of the other worries that people have about, for example, freedom of movement and the impact on different sectors would also be allayed if we were to stay in the single market and the customs union.

I still hope that we can find consensus that unites us around that issue. What gives me hope is that I know that Ruth Davidson used to believe it, because the week after the referendum, I think, she challenged me in the chamber to protect our membership of the single market. If she can find it within herself to stand up and be counted on that again, I would certainly welcome that.

I also know that there are voices within the Scottish Labour Party who, just today, are saying to Richard Leonard, “Stop supporting a Tory hard Brexit.” I think that the wording is, “Will he rise to the challenge?”, and I think that some of his colleagues have said that future generations will not forgive those who stand idly by and watch the Tories do real economic damage to our country.

I hope that Ruth Davidson rediscovers her former convictions and I hope that the voices in Scottish Labour that are calling for membership of the single market manage to turn Richard Leonard away from being a hard Brexiteer and towards a more sensible position. If that happens, this Parliament can be united, and then perhaps we can have greater influence on the direction of travel in the UK. My challenge goes out to those across this chamber to unite behind what is right for Scotland.