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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, February 1, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 01 February 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Cancer Day, Business Motion, Support to Study in Scotland, Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Contents


First Minister’s Question Time


Budget

1. Ruth Davidson (Edinburgh Central) (Con)

There are two contrasting views on the direction of the Scottish National Party Government’s budget. One is the Patrick Harvie view that it is the best thing since sliced bread. The other is that it sends a message that we are a high-tax economy; that is Sir Tom Hunter’s view. Who does the First Minister think that the people of Scotland should trust with their money—Harvie or Hunter?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I think that they should trust Derek Mackay, who yesterday put forward a sensible, responsible and balanced budget that reverses the cut to Scotland’s budget imposed by the Conservative Government at Westminster, protects our public services and allows investment in the infrastructure and business support that is so important to growing our economy.

As a result of the decisions made by Derek Mackay, 70 per cent of all taxpayers in Scotland will pay less in the next financial year than they do in this, 81 per cent of basic-rate taxpayers will pay less, and 55 per cent of all taxpayers will pay less than they would if they lived elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which makes Scotland not just the lowest-taxed part of the UK, but the fairest-taxed part of the UK.

Of course, what Ruth Davidson and the Tories are really worried about is that we are progressively asking those who earn the most to pay a little bit more to help protect our public services and invest in our economy. For example, we are asking somebody earning £100,000 to pay less than £50 a month to help protect our public services.

However, the Tories do not want us just to stand still on tax—they want us to cut tax for the very wealthiest in our society. We know that, if we were to follow Tory tax policies, we would have to take more than £500 million out of our budget. Before Ruth Davidson says another word about tax, perhaps she will share with this chamber where she thinks that the axe should fall from £500 million of Tory tax cuts for the richest—is it on our health service or our education system? Perhaps Ruth Davidson would care to enlighten us.

Ruth Davidson

We would cut SNP Government waste, scrap SNP vanity projects and grow the Scottish economy. That answer was a lot more Harvie than Hunter, and what the First Minister fails to grasp, which everyone in the real world can see, are the consequences of her plan. I will spell them out. If we have markedly higher taxes here, we will—as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said yesterday—make Scotland

“a less attractive part of the UK for skilled employees to locate and work, or for businesses to recruit and invest.”

Can the First Minister explain to me and the chamber why the Scottish Chambers of Commerce is wrong?

The First Minister

I will tell Ruth Davidson something about waste—the waste of space that is the Tory party in this chamber. No matter how seriously Ruth Davidson wags her finger at me, she cannot escape the question about where the axe would fall from the £556 million of cuts that would have to be made to the health service, the education system, business support or infrastructure if we were to follow the Tory plans to cut taxes for the very richest in our society. That might be the Tory way; it is not the way of this progressive Scottish Government.

On the issue of the impact on our economy, unfortunately for Ruth Davidson, the evidence does not bear out what she says. The Scottish Fiscal Commission has to do forecasts for our budget and assess the policies that we put forward. In the report that it published accompanying the draft budget, the commission said that our tax policies would have no impact on the economy in the way that Ruth Davidson and the Tories suggest. Let us cut to the chase: the Scottish Government has put forward fair and progressive tax policies that will allow us to protect our public services, reverse Tory cuts and support our businesses, while the Tories want us to cut taxes for the very wealthiest in our society. So, yes, that is a difference between the Government and the Tories. Of course, we know from polling evidence that the majority of people in Scotland are on the side of the Government.

Ruth Davidson

I am not the one who just lost a third of my seats at the last election. If the First Minister wants to talk about the Scottish Fiscal Commission, let us do so because, since the budget debate began, we have learned that Scottish growth for the year to September was just 0.6 per cent and, according to the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s projections, Scotland is heading for the longest period of low growth in 60 years. The budget should be trying to address that, and it simply fails to do so.

The Federation of Small Businesses has said:

“The next stage of the Scottish Government Budget is a key opportunity for Ministers to put Scotland’s economy first. The economy should be the top priority for every department—not just the finance and business briefs.”

The FSB said that two weeks ago, so why did the First Minister not take its advice?

The First Minister

We listen to the advice of all stakeholders and we come to balanced decisions. Ruth Davidson is the leader of the party that is slipping back into third place in Scottish politics and, on today’s performance, it is not difficult to see why.

Let us debunk once and for all the Tory nonsense about Scotland’s economy. We should remember that it has lower unemployment than the rest of the UK on average and one of the highest employment rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. The Scottish Fiscal Commission has forecast that Scottish tax revenues, even excluding our changes, will grow faster than those in the rest of the UK. It also projects that Scotland will close the gap with the UK on gross domestic product per capita. As the SFC says, the gap in GDP growth is down to slower population growth and, the last time I looked, most of the powers to influence population growth lay with Westminster.

If the Tories are serious about growing our economy, they will back the Scottish Government in arguing for more powers over migration and, especially in the week where we have seen a secret Tory analysis spelling out the damage of Brexit to our economy, they will get behind the Scottish Government in opposing the recklessness of Brexit.

This week, Ken Clarke stood up and said that, because of the impact of the European Union referendum, growth in the UK is

“feeble compared with the rest.”

He went on to say that the UK is

“the laggard in the G7. We are the laggard among the European economies against which we ... match our performance. That is the damaging consequence of the vote ... in 2016.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 31 January 2018; Vol 635, c 856.]

The difference between Ken Clarke and Ruth Davidson is that he sticks to his principles, but Ruth Davidson abandons hers. It is not just UK growth that is feeble; Ruth Davidson is feeble.

Ruth Davidson

Presiding Officer,

“With any Brexit uncertainty affecting the UK as well, it’s hard to argue that Scotland’s relatively weaker performance can be explained by the outcome of the EU referendum.”

That was said by the Fraser of Allander institute—which is used in aid by the First Minister at every opportunity.

We already know that the SNP has put up taxes on buying a house. It has put up business taxes and now it is putting up tax on ordinary working people, which breaks its own manifesto commitment not to do so. Instead of listening to Scotland’s business community, the only person that Nicola Sturgeon listens to is Patrick Harvie. The Greens passed her budget last year, they are passing her budget this year and they have already told her which tax they want her to put up to pass her budget next year. Yesterday, Patrick Harvie told the chamber that he wanted “meaningful progress” on local tax reform. Translated, that means that next year he is coming for the council tax. Surely, even for the First Minister, that would be a tax rise too far. Will she rule it out?

The First Minister

We have lower average council tax bills in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. Increases in Scotland are capped at 3 per cent, which is much less than the potential increases in the rest of the UK. The difference between Ruth Davidson and the Government is quite simple: we are interested in protecting our public services, we are interested in ensuring that we have the revenue to invest in world-class infrastructure and business support, and we want to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the impact of Ruth Davidson’s Tory cuts, particularly to welfare. All that Ruth Davidson is interested in is tax cuts for the very richest in our society. That is the difference. She is on the wrong side of public opinion and perhaps that is why her party has hit the buffers.


Income Tax

2. Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Figures reported last week reveal that, in Scotland today, the richest 1 per cent now own more personal wealth than the whole of the poorest 50 per cent put together. In a country where more than a quarter of a million children live in poverty, that suggests that there is something profoundly wrong with our economic system and the priorities of this Parliament. Why is the First Minister refusing to ask the richest people in Scotland to pay their fair share?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As we have just heard from my exchange with Ruth Davidson, we are asking the richest people in Scotland to pay their fair share. We are asking them to contribute to protecting our public services. Ruth Davidson clearly wants tax cuts only for the richest, but what we have from Labour is a completely incredible and incompetent tax policy.

Richard Leonard said earlier this week that he was putting forward a policy that would raise an extra £1 billion. When we take into account all the measures that would require legislation—and so would not be available for our budget—or would require us to go against Audit Scotland recommendations, and we look just at the income tax policy that was put forward by Richard Leonard, we see that he has not subjected it to any behavioural analysis. The Scottish Fiscal Commission would do that, and whether you agree or disagree with its estimates, what it says that a tax policy raises is all that the Government is allowed to spend. Our analysis shows that, when all those corrections are applied to Labour policies, the £1 billion becomes—if we are being very generous to Labour—less than £300 million. Labour’s sums simply do not add up. It has no credibility and no competence—that is a fact.

Richard Leonard

I do not know why the First Minister is so pessimistic. Professor David Bell, from the University of Stirling, told a committee of this Parliament that

“The worldwide evidence on behavioural responses to tax changes tends to agree only on the belief that higher income tax rates will lead to behaviours that have a negative effect on tax revenues.”

It is a belief; there is no evidence. That is why we think that it is right that those at the top should pay a bit more, because all of us—rich and poor—benefit from a more equal society.

We know that, since the Tories cut the top rate of income tax in 2013, the rich have got richer. New analysis published today by Labour reveals a 24 per cent rise in the estimated number of people in Scotland who could pay a top rate of 50p but do not. Why will the First Minister not use her powers to reverse that Tory tax cut?

The First Minister

First of all, the budget does raise the top rate of tax. It asks those at the top to pay more—perhaps radically; I do not know—but it does so in a way that will raise extra revenue for our public services rather than lose it. That is called competent government, which is something that, I appreciate, Richard Leonard does not know much about.

I have the greatest respect for Professor David Bell but, unfortunately for Richard Leonard, it is not Professor Bell who does the revenue forecasts based on our tax policy but the SFC. It was the Scottish Labour Party—I think that at the time it was led by Jackie Baillie, who I cannot see immediately; oh, there she is—that asked for the SFC to be put on a statutory basis. We are required to take account of its forecasts. We might not always agree with it, but it determines how much money we spend. To propose a policy that takes no account of the analysis that the SFC would apply to it is completely and utterly incompetent. It would embarrass a school debating class, let alone a party that is supposed to be a credible Opposition. Under Richard Leonard’s leadership, Labour has even less credibility and competence on such matters than it had before. However, let us give him credit: that is some achievement.

Richard Leonard

Well, it is good to see that we have moved on from the personal insults of last week.

Presiding Officer,

“let me be absolutely clear today: a large tax cut for 10 per cent ... of the population—those on the highest incomes—at a time when support for the disabled is being cut and our public services are under pressure is, in my view, the wrong choice.”—[Official Report, 17 March 2016; c 10.]

That is what the First Minister said in March 2016, before an election, but now she has no plans to reverse the Tory tax cut for top earners. All that it needs is political will and moral courage. This Parliament does not serve the interests just of the rich and their army of accountants. Scotland’s children and our pensioners, who are gripped in poverty, count as well—as do home carers, who are out every single night, in all weathers. Instead of relying on Reaganomics, why on earth does the First Minister not stand up for all those families? Why does she not stand up for all those families in Scotland who are gripped in poverty? Why does she not stand up for our communities? Why does she not match her words with her deeds?

The First Minister

Where to start? The incompetence, incoherence and sheer incredibility of what we have just heard from Richard Leonard is mind boggling—not fit for opposition, let alone government.

Let me try to deconstruct some of that. I think that he called our policies “Reaganomics”. What I am talking about are the rules by which the Scottish Government is required to set its budget—rules that were called for by the Scottish Labour Party. We subject our tax policies to the SFC, which models them and applies a behavioural analysis. It then tells us how much it thinks our tax policies will raise. Whether we think that such forecasts are right or wrong, that is all the money that we are allowed to budget for: we cannot budget for any more than that. It is as though Richard Leonard is suggesting that we fund our NHS through Monopoly money; it is simply not credible.

Let me come to what Richard Leonard said that I said in 2016. I remember the quote well; I was referring to Tory plans to increase the higher-rate threshold by more than inflation. We are not doing that. As Derek Mackay said yesterday, we are increasing the higher-rate threshold by less than inflation. Under this Government, there are no tax cuts for the wealthiest in our society; instead, we are asking those at the top of the income scale to pay more to protect our public services. However, we are doing that in a way that we are confidant will raise the extra revenue to invest in public services, not in the reckless and incompetent way that Richard Leonard is suggesting, which would take resources away from those services. If Richard Leonard wants to be taken seriously, he will have to go back to the classroom and do his homework on tax before he comes to the chamber again to question me on it.


Loch Fyne Incident

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The First Minister will be aware of the tragic sinking of the Nancy Glen fishing boat in Loch Fyne two weeks ago, and of the fact that two local fishermen, Duncan MacDougall and Przemek Krawczyk, are still missing. The tragedy has devastated the local community in Tarbet and, in response, the Clyde Fishermen’s Association has crowdfunded almost £200,000. In the past hour, I spoke to Duncan’s father, who has asked all politicians to work together to bring the boys home. What support can the Scottish Government offer the families affected? Will the First Minister commit to working with the United Kingdom Government to ensure that the vessel is recovered as soon as possible?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I thank the member for raising this tragic issue. I have written to the bereaved families and I know that the thoughts of everybody in the chamber are with the families at this unimaginably difficult time.

The Cabinet has discussed the issue at some length, not just this week but last week, too. The marine accident investigation branch is in charge of the investigation and Fergus Ewing will speak to the MAIB this afternoon. The MAIB will have to apply a number of considerations to its assessment of whether the vessel can be recovered. As First Minister, I am very clear, and the Scottish Government is very clear, that one of those considerations should be the very understandable desire of the families to recover the bodies of their loved ones.

The Scottish Government will offer whatever support it can. I cannot pre-empt the conclusions of the MAIB, but I assure members that we will do everything possible, not just to support the families but to ensure that they can recover the bodies of their loved ones. I am sure that Fergus Ewing will keep members appropriately updated.


Burntisland Fabrications

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

On Friday, I met Burntisland Fabrications workers and their union representatives at the yard in Methil. I appreciate the important role that the Scottish Government played in staving off administration last year, but the yards are now coming to the end of the current Beatrice contract and there are concerns about the future of the workforce if new contracts are not secured. What action and support will the Scottish Government provide BiFab and its workforce to ensure that the future of the yards can be guaranteed, new contracts can be secured and there are no further job losses even if there is a gap between the end of the Beatrice contract and the start of any new contracts?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

The Scottish Government will do everything that it can, as it has done in past months, to support the future of BiFab. I will meet Keith Brown this afternoon to discuss the latest situation and to look at the support that the Scottish Government can give.

When we were able to secure the short-term future of BiFab before Christmas, I said at the time, frankly and candidly, that that was what we had done. We had secured the short-term future, but there was still significant work to do to secure the medium-term and long-term future of the yards. That remains the case, but the Scottish Government will continue to work constructively with the management and the trade unions to ensure that BiFab has a strong future.

The market in the contracts that BiFab is competing for is healthy, and will become more healthy in the years ahead, so we want to see a bright future for BiFab and we will do everything in our power to ensure that that happens.


NHS Highland

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Since last Friday, 134 elective operations have been postponed at Raigmore hospital due to dust contamination from building work being tracked into the main operating theatres. Patients and their families are understandably furious that their operations have been delayed. That comes on top of 149 operations having been cancelled in the first three weeks of January due to weather and illness. What assurances can the First Minister provide to the people of the Highlands that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport will fully investigate how that situation has arisen? Does she still have full confidence in the management of NHS Highland?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will separate my answer into two parts. On the particular issues around dust in operating theatres at Raigmore, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport is in close contact with NHS Highland to ensure that everything is being done to resolve that situation as quickly as possible. It is deeply regrettable that it has arisen and—as I am sure Edward Mountain appreciates—safety and cleanliness in operating theatres are of paramount importance. Patients cannot and should not be put at risk.

With regard to the wider situation around operations, in health services not only in Scotland but around the world, pressures during the winter months mean an increase the number of elective operations that are postponed. That has been more of an issue this winter because we have, for example, had a flu level of five times it was were last winter. However, cancelled and postponed operations are kept to an absolute minimum.

Of course, the situation in Scotland has to be contrasted with the situation south of the border, where 100 per cent of elective operations in England were cancelled for the entire month of January. We regret every operation that has to be postponed. However, in Scotland, postponements are kept to a minimum, which is to the great credit of everyone who works in the national health service.


Budget

3. Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I thank Ruth Davidson for the lavish attention that she paid to the impact of the Green Party, which has successfully changed the Scottish Government’s budget. That impact has allowed councils in every part of the country to spend this morning cancelling many of the cuts that have been under consideration for some time. Many councils have been forced to consider reducing the number of learning assistants, cutting back on secondary school subject choices, cutting back on waste and recycling services and ending grants to voluntary organisations, from arts bodies to women’s crisis centres. It is fantastic to know that councils across the country will be scrapping those cuts today.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—the voice of local government in Scotland—has welcomed the development, saying that it is pleased that Mr Mackay and the Scottish Greens have listened to what COSLA said, and that they have taken account of its concerns. The First Minister will also be aware that COSLA has made no secret of the longer-term challenges that councils still face. It warns:

“Scottish local government should not remain the poor relation of the Scottish public sector.”

Does the First Minister accept that the pattern of cuts to local services being proposed and then cancelled under pressure cannot be repeated year after year, and that a new relationship is needed in which we give local government the long-term stability and autonomy that it needs and deserves?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I do not accept Patrick Harvie’s characterisation of the treatment of local government or, indeed, of the relationship between the Scottish Government and local government. That relationship is important and, in incredibly difficult financial times, we have treated local government fairly. However, I would be the first to concede that that has not led to easy settlements for local government.

I agree with Patrick Harvie that as a result of the announcements that were made by Derek Mackay yesterday, which were brought about in part due to the constructive negotiations that the Greens were part of, we now have a situation in which local government funding will increase next year in real terms. That is a positive outcome and a good advert for constructive and consensual politics. Perhaps other parties in the chamber could learn some lessons from that. Of course, that real-terms increase in local government funding comes before any account is taken of local government’s own flexibility to raise more revenue. This is a good outcome that will be good for communities, people and services across the country.

Patrick Harvie

It is perfectly true that COSLA has welcomed the change to the budget, which will protect services across Scotland. However, COSLA also says that there are long-term financial challenges ahead, and that they can only be expected to grow.

The Scottish Parliament is now able to make meaningful decisions about national taxation policy and is quite rightly opposing the hard-right ideology of the Conservatives and their cheerleaders, who care only about tax cuts for the richest people. We can put into practice the reasonable principle that wealthy people should pay more in order to protect public services and cut inequality. Why, then, are we still micromanaging councils, with national decisions determining the local taxes that are being paid on a bungalow in Beauly or a flat in Fort William?

The First Minister

It was this Government, when it first took office, that removed most of the ring fencing from local government budgets. We are the elected Government of Scotland, so it is reasonable for us in some areas—for example, the expansion of childcare—to set national policies and ambitions for what we want to achieve, and then to work with local government on how those are delivered.

Patrick Harvie is right to say that we face challenges: local government faces challenges and it is not alone in that. If we look ahead, we see challenges coming from the changing demographics of our country. The national health service, possibly even more than local government does, faces the implications of that.

Despite our ability to cancel the real-terms Tory cuts in next year’s budget, we still face the implications of continued Tory austerity, and we see from the leaked secret Tory analysis that Brexit will compound all those challenges. As the Government, we require to work with all the stakeholders, and others across the chamber, to steer our public services through those challenges as best we can. We do that, as we have demonstrated, by using the powers of the Parliament in a constructive and responsible way. We will continue to do exactly that.

I am sure that Patrick Harvie and I will not agree on everything, but I hope that we will continue to see the constructive approach that we have seen from the Greens. I hope, too, that we see more of that constructive approach from the other parties in Parliament.


Police Scotland (Accountability)

4. Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Back in November, I asked the First Minister about the shocking murder of Elizabeth Bowe from St Andrews. Failings were identified by the police investigations organisation, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, yet when councillors in Fife asked for a report on the case, they were told by the convener of the committee to watch a recording of First Minister’s questions on the BBC iPlayer. When councillors made a second request for a report, the police asked for it to be removed from the agenda. Does the First Minister believe that that lives up to the ambition of the Government to strengthen the links between the police and the communities that they serve?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

I will try to respond in a very sincere and genuine way. I am not entirely sure—and I apologise if that is due to my inability to understand all of Willie Rennie’s question—what report he is referring to. If it is a PIRC report, then it would be a matter for PIRC; if it is a police report, I would have to look into it to see whether it was appropriate for that particular report to be released.

As a general principle, local authorities and the public at large should, of course, see as much information as possible. I make a genuine offer to try to move that forward. If Willie Rennie wants to correspond with me on the details that he has raised today, I am happy to look into them to see if I can be helpful in getting the information that he has requested.

Willie Rennie

The First Minister needs to understand that this question is about the scrutiny of local policing by the local authority. If failings in a local murder case do not justify scrutiny by local representatives, where is the local accountability?

Evidence is building that the structure of Police Scotland is not fit for purpose. There has been pressure on PIRC from the justice department and clear dissatisfaction about the members of the Scottish Police Authority from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. We are on our third chief constable and on our third chair and third chief executive of the SPA. Now we are seeing faults in the local accountability of policing in Fife.

Surely it is time to admit that this is not working. Iain Livingstone, the acting chief constable, said today that the centralisation of the police was rushed. Will the First Minister recognise that now is the time for an independent review of the police structure?

The First Minister

Iain Livingstone also said that he thinks that Scotland is safer now than it would have been if we had not gone through the reform programmes—in the interest of completeness, it is important to say that.

I say sincerely that I am not entirely sure whether Willie Rennie wants to have an exchange about the generalities of police reform—he has said a number of things that I would absolutely refute; in fact, PIRC would refute his point about interference, and did so at the weekend—or whether he is asking about a specific report into a specific case. It is important to be clear, and I am not clear from Willie Rennie’s line of questioning.

I do think that it is important for local politicians to apply scrutiny to local policing. As I said in my first answer, I am not entirely clear which report Willie Rennie was referring to—if he wants to tell me that, I will look into it and see whether action is required.

Willie Rennie and I do not agree on all of the broader issues of police reform. Of course, we recognise that there are challenges associated with Police Scotland, and work is on-going to ensure that we resolve all of those challenges. However, we live in a country where crime is now at a 40-plus-year low, which is to the great credit of our police officers throughout the country.

There are issues in Willie Rennie’s question that he needs to be a bit clearer about, because I genuinely want to help if there is a particular issue about a particular case. Apart from anything else, the family in such a case deserve for it to be treated seriously. If Willie Rennie decides what, specifically, he is asking me, I will be happy to respond.


Brexit

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

Brexit, as it looks like it will play out, will have deeply damaging consequences for my constituency, particularly the college, agriculture and tourism sectors. Now that we know that the United Kingdom Government’s leaked Brexit analysis shows broadly the same thing as the projections that the Scottish Government published, does the First Minister think that it was reasonable for Ruth Davidson to describe those projections as over-the-top scaremongering?

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

No, I do not and, probably, in her heart of hearts, neither does she. We published the Scottish Government analysis—I stress that we published it—for everybody to see. At the time, the Tories said that it was all scaremongering and that we were making it up. Then, just a couple of weeks later, we find that there is secret Tory analysis on the issue—of such massive seriousness and importance to the whole UK’s future that the Tories are refusing to publish it—that shows pretty much exactly the same things.

It is perhaps time for the Scottish Tories to apologise for saying what they said about the Scottish Government analysis and to get real on Brexit. The Tories are leading not just Scotland but the entire UK off a cliff edge, and they are fighting like ferrets in a sack as they do it. They are a disgrace to the entire country and the sooner that they are out of office, the better.


Racism

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

In the past few days, I have been inundated with stories of everyday racism and Islamophobia. They include the story of a young woman who had her hijab ripped off her head at the underground station; of a child who is scared to go to school because he is regularly called a terrorist; of a hotel worker who is regularly racially abused but is told by his employer that the customer comes first; and of a council worker who is convinced that he missed out on a promotion because of his colour and religion. That is not about one individual or one organisation; it is about a culture.

On Tuesday in the Parliament, we launched the cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, with the support of more than 50 organisations. Will the First Minister commit herself and her Government to working constructively with us on the important issues that the cross-party group raises? It is in the interest of all of our citizens to defeat prejudice no matter the gender, religion or colour.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Yes, I give that commitment. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to Anas Sarwar. Although he and I are political opponents locally as well as nationally, I genuinely admired the way in which he spoke up this week and the bravery with which he did it. It would have been brave in any circumstances, but all of us know that raising issues that involve people in our own parties is even more difficult, and so the praise for having done so should be even greater.

Everyday racism, Islamophobia or any form of prejudice and bigotry is unacceptable, and it is unacceptable when Anas Sarwar, Humza Yousaf or anyone in our society is the subject or victim of it. I am proud that we have in the Parliament today people who are celebrating hijab awareness week. Like any women, Muslim women should be allowed to wear exactly what they want.

Scotland should never presume to think that it is immune from racism. Anas Sarwar has demonstrated that this week. We must unite against it. Many things divide us in the chamber—that is the mark of a healthy democracy—but racism is one of the issues that should absolutely unite us and it is to Anas Sarwar’s credit that he has put it even higher up the agenda. All of us should resolve to do everything that it takes to ensure that Scotland is a place where there is zero tolerance of racism in any form.


“Cities Outlook 2018”

5. Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the Centre for Cities report, “Cities Outlook 2018”, which suggests that automation and globalisation could displace 230,000 Scottish jobs by 2030. (S5F-01996)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

As set out in last year’s programme for government, technological change presents challenges, but also big economic opportunities. “Cities Outlook 2018” acknowledges that although some occupations are likely to contract, others have the potential to grow. The report makes several recommendations that the Scottish Government is already taking steps to implement. For example, we are working with partners across the education system to prepare young people for the modern labour market. At the same time, as part of the implementation of the enterprise and skills review, we are looking to enhance significantly the system of enterprise and skills support to allow our businesses and workforce to compete successfully in the 21st century global economy.

Kenneth Gibson

In order to ensure their maximum employability, it is important that people who are already in the labour market and those who will enter it in the next five years are equipped with the right skills and knowledge to succeed in the future. Can the First Minister set out how the Scottish Government is specifically helping to upskill our future and current workforce to ensure that automation and artificial intelligence present an opportunity to increase Scottish prosperity, rather than being a threat? Given the importance of the issue, does she agree that matters relating to automation and artificial intelligence deserve to be fully debated and discussed in the Scottish Parliament?

The First Minister

In answer to the second question, yes, I do. It is important to discuss and debate such issues in an up-front way, not just in Parliament, but also across society. On the economic opportunities, we need to do just as Kenny Gibson suggests and see it not just as a threat, but as potentially a very big opportunity. That is why I talk often about the need for Scotland to see itself not just as a user or consumer, but as the inventor, designer and manufacturer of new technologies. That is what will drive our economic and industrial strategy in the years ahead.

We have a highly skilled workforce in Scotland and we continue to support it, particularly through curriculum for excellence and the developing the young workforce programme. Through the enterprise and skills strategic board, we are working to ensure that the planning and commission of our annual £2 billion investment in skills is better co-ordinated and responsive. That is the right approach to developing a skilled and productive workforce that can maximise our future economic opportunities, whatever shape they may take.


Violence Reduction (Schools)

6. Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to reduce violence in schools. (S5F-01998)

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Violence towards anyone is unacceptable and the safety of children, young people and staff in schools is paramount. We are determined to continue to work with schools and local authorities to tackle serious indiscipline and violence. In addition to the publication of guidance for schools on how to manage behaviour, including violent incidents, we continue to invest in violence prevention programmes, including no knives better lives and the mentors in violence prevention programme.

The recently published report, “Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research 2016”, highlights that overall pupils are well behaved and that violent incidents, especially those involving a knife, are—thankfully—very rare. However, we will always work with all our partners to seek ways to drive down such unacceptable behaviour.

Michelle Ballantyne

I am not sure whether there has been a more recent report, but the 2012 report identified the issues that the First Minister mentioned. However, Police Scotland figures show that between April and November 2017, 80 school pupils were found with knives on school premises, with a further 45 incidents of pupils being caught carrying an offensive weapon. In the light of what the First Minister has already said, what precise steps will she take in the next year to ensure that those figures come down?

The First Minister

An important point has previously been raised with me—including by Ruth Davidson—on the data. The data that is currently provided by Police Scotland is provisional, although it serves as a timely reminder that we are right to keep the issue of weapons in schools under review and support targeted and preventative action. Information is now being collected in a way to allow the police to identify specific cases of knives in schools—previously that would have been part of general data on knives and offensive weapons.

I highlighted some of the action that we are taking in my initial answer. We are investing millions of pounds in violence reduction programmes for young people: the no knives, better lives youth engagement programme has received funding since 2009, and the mentors in violence prevention programme is about empowering young people themselves to challenge and speak out against violent and abusive behaviour.

The police have an important role to play when crimes are committed and in prevention, but much of our focus should be on working with young people to prevent behaviour of this type.