Meeting date: Thursday, June 30, 2016
Meeting of the Parliament 30 June 2016
Agenda: Undercover Policing, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time
First Minister’s Question Time
We move to First Minister’s question time. There is a large amount of interest from members in asking supplementaries on the European Union following the referendum. Members also have a number of local and constituency supplementaries. I ask members who wish to ask a local or constituency supplementary to press their request-to-speak button during question 1 or question 2, and I will take them after question 2. At that point, we will clear the screens. Those who wish to ask a supplementary on the EU should press their button during question 3 or question 4, and I will take them after question 4. I hope that that is clear.
To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-00112)
Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
In response to last week’s referendum vote, the United Kingdom Government announced that it will set up a new Cabinet Office unit to present options for the UK’s negotiation with the European Union. We need full involvement from all our devolved Governments in that process, and I understand that ministerial meetings will take place in the coming days. What preparations is the Scottish Government making to take part in those discussions?
The Scottish Government is making exhaustive and very detailed preparations to ensure that we are fully involved in the UK decision-making process as it now develops. Of course, we do not yet know what the UK negotiating position will be—we do not even know who the UK Prime Minister will be after the next few weeks—but we are making it very clear to the UK Government that the commitment that I was given by the Prime Minister on Friday morning that there would be full engagement of the devolved Administrations must be delivered in full.
It is vital that, in the course of the development of that position, all options for Scotland are on the table. As everybody will have heard me say a number of times over the few days since the referendum, Scotland voted to stay in the EU, and it is my job as First Minister and the Scottish Parliament’s job to do everything that we can to give effect to how people in Scotland voted.
I thank the First Minister for that answer, and I hope and trust that the Scottish Government will play a full and integral role. I think that we need to agree some first principles for the talks. Retaining our place in the single market should be the overriding priority. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already said that he will be
“pushing the Government to ensure this is the cornerstone of the negotiations with the EU.”
Will the First Minister follow the same course?
In addition to what I said earlier about making sure that all options for Scotland are on the table and that we are doing everything that we can to protect Scotland’s position in all eventualities, I make it clear that my first principle is to seek to give effect to the democratic will of the Scottish people that was expressed in last week’s referendum, when more than 60 per cent of voters across Scotland—including a majority in every local authority area—said that they wanted to stay in the EU.
Therefore, at this stage, I do not think that we should be looking at second-best options; we should be looking to protect what people in Scotland voted for. Until the past few days, that was the position of Ruth Davidson. She said:
“our membership of the EU is crucial—not just in ensuring access to the single market, but also because we benefit from being able to call on the EU’s negotiating muscle on trade policy around the world.”
In relation to Scottish employers, she said:
“for so long as they are telling me that our jobs are sustained by staying within the EU, then I will be backing them”.
I just wonder what has changed in the intervening period. What happened to the spirited defence of EU membership that we saw at Wembley? Why, just a few days later, is Ruth Davidson suggesting that we meekly throw in the towel? I am not going to meekly throw in the towel.
The First Minister is absolutely right that it was access to the single market and trade that was at the very core of my support for the European Union, because it helps our economy, helps sustain jobs and helps to keep our public services in Scotland well funded. It is very important, but it is not as important as our own UK single market—or does the First Minister not agree?
No, I think that the single market as it exists right now is really important. I think that trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is important, as is trade with the Republic of Ireland, incidentally; I am sure that the Republic of Ireland will be seeking to make sure that, in whatever negotiations unfold, trade between it and the UK is protected.
Ruth Davidson wants to suddenly force the rest of us into an either/or choice. It is the Conservatives who have recklessly brought this country to the brink of disaster. No longer will the Tories have any credibility in suggesting that they are the party of economic stability or even the party of the United Kingdom. It is the reckless, selfish behaviour of the Conservative Party that has put economic stability and the reputation of the UK on the line. I am going to continue to do the job that I was elected to do, which is to stand up for Scotland. I would not be fit to be First Minister if I did not do that. Given what Ruth Davidson is saying just now, she should take a lesson from that and stand up for Scotland as well.
That was a rather cursory acknowledgement of the importance of the UK market to Scotland. However, the First Minister should recognise that importance, because our exports to the EU are worth £11.6 billion but our exports to the rest of the UK are worth £48.5 billion. The UK single market is four times more important to our firms and is underpinned by both our shared currency and our free borders. She says that she does not want to jeopardise that. Why then has she instructed civil servants to draw up legislation for a second independence referendum? Why have her taxpayer-funded spin-doctors been briefing the press overnight that a second referendum is just around the corner? How does that protect Scotland’s place in the UK single market?
If Ruth Davidson and her Conservative colleagues had thought it was so vitally important to protect what we have now, why did they propose a referendum that put all that on the line? Why have they brought not just Scotland but the UK to the brink of economic disaster?
As I have said before, my starting point in the discussions is not independence; it is protecting Scotland and doing what the Conservatives have so clearly failed to do. However, let me also say this: if I think—if Scotland thinks—that the best way to protect our position in the period that lies ahead is to look again at being independent, that is a right that Scotland should have. Let me remind Ruth Davidson of something that she said in the 2014 referendum. She said:
“No means we stay in ... the European Union.”
“No means ... we are members of the European Union.”
Well, voting for the UK is what has put membership of the European Union on the line, and I think that the people of Scotland should have all of the options available to them to protect Scotland’s position.
Prime Minister (Meetings)
To ask the First Minister when she next plans to meet the Prime Minister. (S5F-00142)
I spoke with the Prime Minister on Friday morning in the immediate aftermath of the referendum result. That conversation was the start of what I hope—indeed, what I will insist—is an on-going process of close discussion and direct involvement in the United Kingdom negotiations with the European Union. I will also be with the Prime Minister tomorrow when we will both attend the battle of the Somme centenary commemorations in France.
As the First Minister knows, the Labour Party supports her efforts to secure Scotland’s place in Europe and, unlike those on the Tory benches, who are ultimately responsible for their country being in this mess, we share the Government’s objective, because that is essential to protect jobs, grow our economy and protect workers’ rights.
Yesterday, however, the elected leaders of France and Spain both said that there would be no negotiations with Scotland. Scotland needs more than tea and sympathy from our European neighbours; we need their support. Can the First Minister tell us what her next steps will be?
What certain Governments said yesterday was that the Brexit negotiations will be between the EU and the UK. That is a simple statement of fact. Our job—and I have always been clear about this—is to make sure that, in the context of that negotiation, all options for Scotland are on the table. That is why, as well as our intensive EU interaction with member states and with EU institutions, we are seeking to ensure—as I have just said to Ruth Davidson—that Scotland is fully involved in the UK decision-making process.
It is also vital to make sure, as I was doing in Brussels yesterday, that the EU and all players in the EU are aware of Scotland’s desire to protect our place in the European Union and that we keep minds open about options as we move forward. That was the purpose of yesterday’s meetings and, from the response that I got in Brussels, they were successful.
The First Minister knows that we support her efforts, but we need to know what her alternative plans are too. I know that those vying to lead Ruth Davidson’s party discount expert advice readily, but the economic experts are clear that we must prepare for the worst. That means more job losses and further austerity.
The last time that we met in this chamber before the EU referendum, I asked the First Minister about the contingency planning that her Government was undertaking in the event of Brexit. People are worried about their jobs, their mortgages and their pensions, so can the First Minister update us on the actions that she is taking to protect Scotland’s economy?
That contingency planning, which is more important now that we know the outcome of the referendum, is under way across a whole range of issues. As I said when I made my statement on Tuesday in this chamber, I will endeavour to keep the Parliament—and, during the parliamentary recess, the party leaders—fully apprised of all the work that we are doing.
My position is clear. I want to give effect to what Scotland voted for. I do not want us to be ripped out of the European Union against our will, but at every step of the way, as the negotiations and discussions that the UK will be taking forward unfold, we must be doing everything that we can to give assurances to people who are worried about their jobs and livelihoods and, in the case of EU citizens here, very worried even about their right to live here.
That is why we will be working hard to look at what assurances we can give over the weeks and months ahead—and we will also be seeking to persuade the UK Government to give assurances. One assurance that I think that the UK Government should give today without any further delay is that, regardless of what happens, the right of any European citizen already living here in Scotland should be protected. At a stroke, the UK Government could give that assurance today, and I hope that it will consider doing so.
We will continue to plan for all eventualities, but in doing that, no matter what Ruth Davidson might want to see us do, I am not prepared as First Minister simply to ignore how people in Scotland voted last week. I am not prepared to shrug my shoulders and simply accept that a Tory Government that we did not even vote for here in Scotland can drag us out of the European Union against our will, and I think that a majority of people in Scotland agree with that position.
The First Minister is right to seek reassurance regarding the status of EU migrants living in Scotland, and I give her the support of members on the Labour benches for that specific ask, which should be given and given now.
Last night, the First Minister was asked by the political editor of STV news about the legal advice that she was in receipt of regarding Scotland’s place in Europe. I know that the Government’s convention is not to publish legal advice, but these are not conventional times. The Tories’ reckless gamble has left us in a political, economic and constitutional crisis unparalleled in modern times. People deserve to know—in fact, they need to know—what is going to happen next.
This is not about dragging up the arguments of the past; it is about our country’s future. Will the First Minister publish the legal advice that she receives?
I start by agreeing with the premise of Kezia Dugdale’s question. These are not conventional times that we live in, so we should not simply accept that the way in which things are normally done should be the way that things are done right now. We should also certainly learn lessons from what the Conservatives have just done, which is to bring not just Scotland but the whole UK to the position that we are in just now with clearly no planning.
When I heard the Prime Minister and other ministers during the referendum campaign saying that there was no contingency planning, I assumed that that was just something that they were saying for the benefit of the campaign. It now turns out that it was right; they did no planning and that, frankly, is unforgivable. We should all ensure that we learn lessons from that.
What I said to the political editor of STV last night I will say again here, and I have said it before in the chamber. I recognise the potential importance of some of the decisions that Scotland is going to be confronted with over the next period, and I am determined to be as open and as frank—not just with this Parliament but with the people of Scotland—as I possibly can be. I want us, if at all possible, to face up to and take in a unified way the decisions with which we might be confronted. Transparency and openness are absolutely paramount to that.
I stopped short, as I will do again today, of saying that the Government would publish every single piece of advice that it ever gets because, particularly when negotiations are at stake, that would not be a sensible thing for any Government to do. However, the commitment that I have to trying to find a path through the situation to lead the country forward in as open, transparent and frank a way as possible is absolute. We will face challenges—as well, potentially, as opportunities—over the next period, and it is important that we face those challenges in a spirit of openness. The Parliament has my absolute commitment to that.
I am sure that the First Minister and members are aware of the recent serious accident that took place at M&D’s theme park in my constituency, where a rollercoaster derailed, crashed to the ground and caused 10 people serious injury. I thank colleagues for their kind words on social media giving support for my constituents. I also thank for their incredible response the public and, of course, our amazing emergency services. What is the Scottish Government’s reaction to the incident at the park?
My heart goes out to all the people who are affected by the terrible incident that took place at M&D’s theme park on Sunday afternoon. My thoughts are particularly with the children and adults who were injured, some of them seriously, and with their families and loved ones. I wish all of them a full and speedy recovery.
I also take the opportunity to thank our emergency services, who were quickly on the scene and provided help and support to the people who were affected with their usual courage and professionalism.
Police Scotland has been in touch with the Health and Safety Executive and both agencies are working together to ensure that the incident is fully investigated. It must be fully investigated and any lessons or recommendations arising from that investigation must be implemented. In the meantime, however, I am sure that the thoughts of the whole chamber are with everybody who was affected on Sunday.
In light of the stark findings of the report on the investigation that was commissioned into the cremation of infants in Scotland, will the First Minister advise me what actions the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that there are no repeats of those abhorrent practices in Scotland? Is the Government considering taking any additional actions in relation to the report’s conclusions on Aberdeen?
I thank Ross Thomson for raising an important and, for many families, difficult issue. I welcome the report that Dame Elish Angiolini published, which is the culmination of several years of work investigating why those mistakes were able to happen. I pay tribute to the courage and dignity shown by parents and families who have been involved with the investigation as well as with earlier investigations. The findings will not undo all the years of pain, but I hope that it will give families some comfort to know that changes have been made and will continue to be made to prevent the same things from ever happening again.
We have already made a number of important changes, including the appointment of an inspector of crematoria and the introduction of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016. We accept all of the report’s recommendations and will implement them as soon as possible. Aberdeen City Council has taken steps to remove responsible individuals from their roles, and I hope that the organisational culture that led staff to conceal the practices is a thing of the past. The chief executive of the council apologised this week and pledged to take personal responsibility for improving procedures.
Changes are being made. That does not undo the hurt and pain that families have suffered but I make a commitment to Parliament that, as we move to implement all the recommendations, Parliament will be fully involved in the work.
The credibility of the Scottish child abuse inquiry is hanging by a thread. Professor Lamb, one of three panel members, has resigned, citing Scottish Government interference, which is compromising the inquiry’s independence. We all owe survivors of abuse justice and redress. What is the First Minister doing to fix this before we fail them once again?
This is a matter of utmost importance to the Government. We all owe it to survivors of abuse to ensure that the inquiry is a thorough investigation of the abuse that they suffered.
We do not accept Professor Lamb’s comments about the independence of the inquiry. Key decisions in relation to the direction of the inquiry, within the terms of reference, and its programme of work are taken by the inquiry panel, which is supported by the inquiry secretary. However, under the Inquiries Act 2005, the Scottish Government has an obligation to fulfil its responsibilities and I believe that we have acted appropriately in doing so. Our priority now remains to support the successful operation of the inquiry and to ensure that the current situation does not impact on its progress in the weeks and months to come.
To answer Iain Gray directly, we have instructed officials to begin planning for the appointment of a new panel member, with that process taking place over the summer. We will make sure that the focus is on the inquiry continuing. The Deputy First Minister is due to meet survivor groups next week to listen to their views about the inquiry’s progress. He will no doubt keep Parliament updated on that work as it progresses, but I want members to be assured of the Government’s commitment to making sure that the inquiry proceeds and does so well and smoothly.
To ask the First Minister when the Cabinet will next meet. (S5F-00125)
The Cabinet will meet on occasion over the summer recess. It is worth pointing out that, since 2008, the Cabinet has met 42 times outside Edinburgh across 25 different local authority areas. I hope that is a signal of our commitment to openness and accessibility. Much of that engagement takes place during the summer recess and it is our intention that that will continue this year.
That is all very welcome, and I hope that the members of the Cabinet take the train at every opportunity.
On Friday morning, after the chief fraudsters of the leave campaign stood in front of the cameras looking like rabbits caught in the headlights, the First Minister told us clearly that people who have done us the honour of choosing to live and work here in Scotland are welcome. Those remarks meant a great deal to a great many people. This must be the first time in generations that a political decision has resulted in so many of our friends and neighbours living in fear and uncertainty about something so fundamental as where they will be allowed to live, and I know that the First Minister shares that concern.
Does the First Minister agree that the way for the United Kingdom Government to allay those concerns is to introduce urgent emergency legislation to immediately give all EU citizens who are already in this country indefinite leave to remain? What actions can the Scottish Government take to offer practical assistance—legal support or additional resources to advice agencies such as citizens advice bureaux—to those who are currently struggling with the complicated process of applying for residency?
I thank Patrick Harvie for his question. He referred to the “chief fraudsters” of the leave campaign, who I see this morning have spent more time stabbing each other in the back than preparing for the consequences of their actions. That perhaps says more about the true motivations of certain individuals in the campaign.
I agree 100 per cent with the substance of Patrick Harvie’s question. I abhor absolutely the way in which the referendum has made people who have come to make this country their home feel about being here. On my way through Edinburgh airport when I was going to Brussels yesterday, I spoke to a number of EU citizens here who told me directly how they felt and how positive they had felt when they heard not just me as First Minister but the whole Parliament say clearly that they are welcome here. We cannot make that clear often enough.
In response to Patrick Harvie’s specific questions, I repeat what I said to Kezia Dugdale. The UK Government should now make it clear to everybody who lives in this country and is from another European country that their right to remain here will not be affected by anything that happens during the Brexit negotiations. That would be an important step forward, and I hope that the declared candidates for the Conservative leadership will each make that clear during their campaign to be the new leader of the Tory party. We will continue to make that case.
On the practical support that we can provide, I am keen that we look at all options. On Tuesday, I said that next week I will convene a summit of all the EU consuls general. That will take place next week. One of the things that I want to discuss is the practical support that it might be useful for the Scottish Government to provide to anybody in the situation.
I am really angry and upset about many things about the referendum and its outcome, but above all others is the idea that somehow we are not the open, inclusive and welcoming country that I know we are. The Scottish Parliament has a duty to stand up and get that message out there, loudly and clearly. Scotland is open, inclusive and welcoming, and no Tory Government behaving in its own party interests should ever be allowed to destroy that.
I very much welcome the positive response that the First Minister has given and I share her outrage—I think—at the irresponsibility of Mr Johnson, one of the central architects of a deceitful leave campaign, in abdicating his responsibility for the mess that he helped to create.
Let us turn to the options for Scotland as we look for a way forward. The First Minister and I voted the same way in 2014 and we voted the same way in this year’s referendum as well, but many people did not and do not want to be forced to choose between remaining members of one union or the other. Following her meetings in Brussels, can the First Minister tell us what other options exist to protect Scotland’s European Union status? Would those require treaty change, and is that realistic? Or does she believe that, ultimately, Scotland will be left with no option but to choose between remaining in the EU, as 62 per cent chose to do last week, and remaining in the United Kingdom, as 55 per cent chose two years ago?
It is too early to give a definitive answer to that question. My purpose in Brussels yesterday was to make Scotland’s voice heard and to raise awareness of Scotland’s case. We are at a very early stage—before we even know what the UK’s negotiating position is going to be—in determining what the different options might be. Within the Scottish Government, we are looking at and are starting to develop what those options might be, but we are a long way from being definitive about them. I repeat what I said earlier this week: at this stage, all the options must be on the table. As we develop our work on that, Parliament must be fully involved, and I repeat my commitment that it will be.
Since Friday, I have made it very clear that the independence option is very much on the table—it has to be on the table—but it is not my starting point. My starting point is how we best protect Scotland’s position. If we do get to the stage of having a second independence referendum—we are not there yet—a number of issues will be up for discussion and will have to be properly discussed and debated. It is very clear that if we got to that stage, the debate that we would have would be a very different debate from the one that we had in 2014, when many people—not me or Patrick Harvie—saw it as a choice between a step into the unknown, with independence, and the known quantity and stability of the United Kingdom. That will not be the case if we are in the situation in the future. Then, the choice will be between a potentially unstable and unpredictable United Kingdom and a choice that might allow us to preserve our stable position within the European Union.
Those decisions lie ahead of us, and it is important that we, as a Parliament and as a country, take them in good order. I am acutely aware that if—I keep stressing the word “if”—I, as the First Minister, get to the stage of asking people in Scotland to look again at the issue of independence, although it will be not just my responsibility, I will have the prime responsibility to persuade people of the case for independence. If I am in that position, I tend to do that openly and honestly, as I said to Kezia Dugdale.
To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-00108)
We will discuss issues of importance to Scotland.
I do not know whether the First Minister felt the same, but I found it difficult to believe that Ruth Davidson showed no signs of embarrassment at all when she claimed a few minutes ago to stand up for our place in the United Kingdom. Within weeks of her becoming the leader of the—apparently—official Opposition, support for independence is at a record high. God help the union if it carries on like that.
After our discussions with the First Minister on Friday, she knows that I oppose independence but will support her efforts to maintain a strong relationship with the European Union. There are three specific EU measures that are especially beneficial to Scotland. The European arrest warrant provides for speedy extradition of criminals back to justice; the Erasmus programme provides for students to complete their degrees in more than one country; and the European health insurance card gives a right to state-provided healthcare in Europe. As the legislative power in all three areas is devolved, does the First Minister believe that those could be the foundation of any new agreement between Scotland and the European Union?
That is a reasonable line of questioning from Willie Rennie. I absolutely agree that the Conservatives should feel deeply ashamed of themselves right now and a bit more humility from their benches this morning would have been in order.
On the substance of Willie Rennie’s question, let me be clear again. I know that Willie Rennie understands this, but my priority—I do not pretend that this is easy—is to seek to see if we can find a way to protect Scotland’s current relationship with the EU, because that is what people in Scotland voted for.
However, there are a range of issues—Willie Rennie has run through some of them: the arrest warrant, Erasmus and the health insurance card—on which, notwithstanding what else might happen, we may well be in a position in Scotland to give early certainty. I can assure Willie Rennie that all those things are under our active consideration as we take forward the next steps in this process.
Thousands of criminals have been extradited to and from the United Kingdom, hundreds of thousands of students have benefited from the Erasmus programme and millions of holidaymakers have an EHIC card. Those are practical benefits that people could see the benefit of maintaining.
While the First Minister was in Brussels yesterday, her finance secretary explained that he had set aside a small contingency to protect Scotland’s budget from the effects of lower revenues or cuts to the block grant as a result of Brexit. The First Minister knows that I already have concerns about the funding for colleges, schools and nurseries. That situation could get worse with Brexit. Will she consider a greater use of income tax powers to mitigate the effects of Brexit on our education system?
I will come back to that point in a second. To finish off on Willie Rennie’s first point, I am not in any way stepping back at this stage from my commitment to seek to give effect to what people in Scotland voted for. However, there is a possibility that, even as we seek to do that, there will be issues where we can give certainty right now. Willie Rennie has raised what some of those issues might be. While I cannot stand here and give definitive answers on each of those right now, Willie Rennie should know that those are all things that are under our active consideration.
On the wider financial and economic issues, if anybody doubts the irresponsibility of what the Conservatives have done to this country, they need only read the Economist Intelligence Unit report that was published yesterday, which laid bare the fiscal and economic consequences of the position that we are now in. Clearly, that has consequences for Scotland. We do not yet know fully what those consequences will be, so, as part of our preparations for dealing with those consequences, we need to ensure that we are taking the time and care to look at all elements of our budgetary planning. That will undoubtedly have an impact on our timescale for budgets and spending reviews over the next period. I am not saying that anything is on or off the table right now, but that is another aspect of the very careful work that we will have to do in the months ahead.
Again, I assure Parliament that, as we do that work, we will seek to do it in an open way, not just with Parliament but with the people of Scotland as a whole.
Will the First Minister use the Scottish Government’s involvement in the negotiation team between the UK and the EU to try to ensure that any draft agreement between the EU and the UK will be subject to explicit approval by this Parliament so that we can protect Scotland’s interests in that situation, assuming of course that we are still not an independent country by that time?
Yes. We need to ensure, at every step of the way, that this Parliament’s voice is heard. It is inconceivable that we would not require to give legislative consent to the many legislative issues that will arise from this process. We all know the boundaries of the legislative consent process—I am not overstating what that could deliver in terms of the overall UK position. However, although it would be for every party and every member of this Parliament to decide for themselves, I could not, personally and as First Minister, contemplate giving legislative consent to legislation that takes this country out of Europe against the express will of the Scottish people.
The direct answer to Alex Neil’s question is that, of course, this Parliament, as well as this Government, should ensure that our voice is heard at every step of the way.
Just to be clear on the point that the First Minister is talking about, over the course of the weekend the impression was given that this Parliament has the legal power to block or veto the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Does the First Minister agree that, as a matter of law, we have no such power?
What I have said is what the reality of the situation is. We have the power. Members will recall that, before the election, we had a debate—if I can put it as politely as that—with the UK Government over whether legislative consent was required for the Trade Union Bill. We said that it was, the UK Government said that it was not, and we got into a stand-off position.
My view is clear: legislative consent for legislation to take us out of Europe—given the enormous impact on our devolved responsibilities—would be required. I have never suggested that the impact of that would be more than it actually is. I believe that a UK Government that was seeking to act in devolved areas against the express will of this Parliament would, in an even further way, be taking itself into constitutional uncharted territory.
Frankly, all of that is just another illustration of how we have been taken to this point by a Government acting completely recklessly without any thought to the consequences or implications: no thought to the consequences for Scotland; no thought to the consequences for Ireland; no thought to the consequences for workers up and down this country. The referendum was brought about purely for the internal purposes of the Conservative Party. Each and every one of them should be deeply, deeply ashamed of themselves.
The First Minister will be aware that neo-Nazi stickers have appeared in Glasgow proclaiming “white zones”. There are also reports that first, second and even third-generation migrants are being told to go home. Can we therefore send a unified message from this Parliament to our immigrants directly that, “This is your home”, and to the spreaders of hate, “The people who are not welcome here are not migrants but you and your hateful message”?
Absolutely. I could not agree more with Anas Sarwar. Let every single one of us, regardless of our party, regardless of our disagreements, make this clear. If someone has done us the honour of choosing to make Scotland their home and they contribute to our economy, our society, our culture and our very sense of who we are, it does not matter whether they are first, second, third or fourth generation and it does not matter whether they come from a European country or a country outside Europe, the message is,“This is your home and we are proud to have you here.” We will never, ever stop saying that. For those who say anything else, Anas Sarwar is right. It is them who do not speak for Scotland, not those who have chosen to make this their home.
What contingency plans might the UK Government have put in place following the referendum to ensure that technology and other resources are in place to continue seamless payments to farmers and other recipients of EU financial support after the expiry of the two-year exit period?
The Conservatives are laughing at that question. They would rather do that than face up to the fact that their colleagues in Westminster got us to where we are now without any contingency planning whatsoever—no contingency planning for the issue that Colin Beattie raised and no contingency planning for anything else. We are not going to get any over the next few weeks, either, as they immerse themselves in an internal leadership election. That is the shameful position that we have been put in.
In Scotland, we cannot undo that and we cannot resolve all that. Our responsibility, whether in the Government or across the Parliament, is to seek to provide the leadership here that is so sadly lacking at Westminster, to find our way through this and to navigate a path that is in Scotland’s best interests. That is what I am determined to do and I hope that I have the backing of the whole Parliament as I do it.
Does the First Minister accept that fishing people in Scotland, and indeed in Shetland, voted leave last Thursday and that that reflects the manifest failures of the common fisheries policy over many decades? Therefore, is it not important that, in whatever option is now pursued, that fact is recognised and acted upon?
Yes, I accept that. I recognise that many people in the fishing communities voted leave because of their frustrations with the common fisheries policy—my party and, indeed, Tavish Scott’s party have expressed those frustrations over many years. As there have been reforms to the common fisheries policy in recent years, so too must we continue to argue for further reforms in the future.
However, I find it impossible to forget the fact that it was a Conservative Government under Ted Heath that thought that our fishermen were expendable when it came to European negotiations.
On the wider issue—there is a wider issue, if Tavish Scott will forgive me for broadening this out—a million people in Scotland voted to leave the European Union. I and all of us have to listen to that, respond to it and understand their reasons. Although I am focused on trying to give effect to majority opinion in Scotland—people would expect me to be focused on that—let me make it clear that I see it as a key responsibility of mine to understand, engage with and respond to the concerns of those who voted the other way last week.
School Leavers (Positive Destinations)
To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that school leavers gain a place at college or university, or gain employment, training or an apprenticeship place. (S5F-00133)
Our education policies are all focused on improving outcomes for our young people, and I am determined to ensure that all our young people have equal chances to succeed beyond school. Under this Government, the percentage of young people who leave school and go on to positive destinations has increased from 84 per cent to a record high this year of 92 per cent. The education delivery plan, which the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills published on Tuesday, sets out more than 50 actions to further transform the education system, including supporting all young people into positive destinations.
The first chances and reach projects at the University of St Andrews are both currently engaged in a partnership with Glenrothes high school, in my constituency. This year, 23 pupils from that school are being supported by the projects, and last year eight pupils went on to study at the University of St Andrews. Does the First Minister agree that strong partnerships between higher education institutions should and must be used as a mechanism to support the Government’s ambitions to close the attainment gap by encouraging ambition, aspiration and achievement?
Yes, I agree absolutely with that, and I hope that all members do.
In its final report, the commission on widening access made a series of recommendations about how we can strengthen partnerships between schools, colleges and universities, which included the expansion of academic bridging programmes, a national network of summer schools, and academic programmes that target early and sustained support for the most able disadvantaged learners. I have made it very clear, as has the Deputy First Minister, that accelerating progress on fair access is a priority. Some of what we require to do to achieve that will be challenging for the university sector, but I welcome its positive response to that challenge. We are already working closely with the sector, and that work will continue over the summer.
National Health Service (Sustainability)
To ask the First Minister what long-term plans the Scottish Government has to address concerns about the sustainability of the NHS in Scotland that were raised recently by the British Medical Association. (S5F-00126)
Over the parliamentary session, we will increase the health resource budget by £500 million over inflation. That was the highest proposed increase of any party in the recent election. We are also working to shift to ensure that it is equipped to respond to some of the challenges that the member rightly raises. further the balance of care from acute to primary and community settings. That is why, as well as increasing the health budget, we are committed to increasing the share of it that goes to primary care, community care, social care and mental health services in each year of the session. “Investment” and “reform” are the key watchwords of our plans for the session ahead.
One point that the BMA made forcibly last week was about the pressure that doctors feel as a result of the rising demands and workloads that are being placed on them. There are not just funding issues; there is an ageing population and there are on-going staffing problems. Those are long-term challenges that require long-term solutions.
The First Minister was health secretary for over five years. Does she accept that she bears some personal responsibility for not preparing for the current crisis? Can she commit the Scottish Government to meaningful reform of the national health service so that it has a sustainable future for the next generation?
I take some personal responsibility for the fact that we have a record high workforce in our national health service, and many more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals—a wide range of professionals—working in our health service. My job is to ensure that we continue not just to invest in the health service, but ensure that it is equipped to respond to some of the challenges that the member rightly raises. That is why our manifesto talked about five new elective treatment centres to deal with the growing number of elective operations that come with an ageing population. It is why we have already taken steps to integrate health and social care, it is why we are already transferring resource from the health service into social care, and it is why our primary care transformation plan is under way.
We will continue to invest the money that the health service needs, and to take the steps to ensure that it is a modern and fit-for-purpose service that can meet all those challenges of the future.
Rail, Maritime and Transport Union and ScotRail (Industrial Dispute)
To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on the industrial dispute between the RMT and ScotRail. (S5F-00138)
I am extremely disappointed that we are seeing industrial action on our railways; it is, after all, the travelling public who lose out in such situations. I once again urge both parties to reopen meaningful discussions and to work towards an agreement that prevents further strikes from going ahead.
Safety is paramount in our rail network. Scottish ministers do not set ScotRail’s operational policy, but we expect employers and unions to arrive at a safe, efficient and customer-focused solution, and we believe that that can be done with no further strike action.
A multi-agency response team has operated on each of the strike dates and will do so if any more go ahead, and all modes of transport have continued to perform well.
The First Minister knows that conductor operation guarantees that a rail worker in addition to the driver will always be on a train to assist passengers, including in the event of an emergency. Can she tell us whether the Government believes that passengers will be at more risk or at less risk if there is an accident or incident and there is no longer a second rail worker to assist?
In addition to safety concerns, does the First Minister believe that disabled passengers will be disadvantaged if they no longer have the guarantee of the assistance of a rail worker?
Therein lies the complete misunderstanding of the issue that we are dealing with. The franchise mandates ScotRail to have a second member of staff on board each and every single train, unless there are exceptional circumstances. That is audited regularly.
The issue is not about whether there will no longer be a second member of staff on the train; it is about whether drivers open the doors. That policy of having driver-controlled doors has been in operation on many of our rail services with no safety concerns for about 30 years. When I travelled from Irvine to Glasgow in my university days, the train was operated in that way. I repeat: this is emphatically not about there not being two members of staff on trains. If Labour wants to be helpful in the matter, it could start by understanding the issue and putting the right information—not the wrong information—out there.
Before I close this meeting of Parliament and introduce summer recess, I say that I look forward to welcoming members back on Saturday morning, along with their guests and their local heroes, when the Parliament will open its doors to the people of Scotland for our opening ceremony.Meeting closed at 12:47.
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