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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 March 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, United Kingdom Spring Statement (Implications for Economy and Public Spending), Mental Health and Incapacity Legislation (Review), Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time, Scottish Tourism Month 2019


Topical Question Time

Christchurch Terrorist Attack

1. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to provide reassurance to communities in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack. (S5T-01562)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

Our thoughts and condolences are with the victims, their families and the communities that have been affected by this dreadful act. The First Minister has sent condolences on behalf of Scotland to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

We stand in solidarity with Muslim communities across the world. The First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and I have visited and been in contact with Muslim communities in Scotland. That included a visit to Glasgow central mosque on Friday, to offer reassurance and our heartfelt support.

Police Scotland has stepped up reassurance patrols around mosques and has increased engagement with all faith communities, giving advice on how people and places can stay safe in these troubling times.

We must stand united against Islamophobia and all hate. Everyone should be able to feel safe as they go about their daily lives. Scotland’s diversity is our strength. We value and appreciate our relationships with our diverse faith communities, and we welcome their contribution to our society.

Anas Sarwar

We send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of those who lost loved ones in Christchurch. We also send a message of solidarity to the millions of people who are hurting in New Zealand and across the world. This was a devastating and despicable attack. Let us be clear: it was the act of a terrorist.

In the aftermath of this latest tragedy, it is important that we unite and work together to confront hatred in all its forms. This is not someone else’s fight, so we should not leave it to anyone else. It is a fight for all of us.

One of the issues that has been raised with me is the on-going security concerns at places of worship. No one should have to fear for their own lives, especially when in a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a mandir or a gurdwara. A places of worship security funding scheme is available in England and Wales, but no such scheme exists in Scotland. Will the cabinet secretary urgently consider that matter and commit the Government and its agencies to work with all our faith communities to deliver such a scheme?

Aileen Campbell

I associate myself with the comments that Anas Sarwar has made about acts of solidarity, which are so necessary at this time of grief and vulnerability for so many. Following their recent visit to the Glasgow central mosque, the First Minister and Humza Yousaf committed to exploring what further actions the Scottish Government could take to provide reassurances to all faith communities and their places of worship. That includes exploring the issues around safety and security, and the funding that Anas Sarwar mentioned. We are doing that work, and we will continue to keep him and Parliament involved as those discussions develop, bearing in mind the pleas from communities that they need extra reassurance and support from their Parliament and Government at this incredibly stressful and vulnerable time.

Anas Sarwar

I thank the minister for that answer, but I stress that we cannot just consider this issue while it is still a hot topic—it needs to be considered urgently in the weeks and months that follow.

I am sad to say that the tragic attack did not surprise me, and it probably did not surprise Muslims across the United Kingdom and across the world. The “us versus them” rhetoric, the sowing the seeds of hate and the othering of our fellow citizens have become all too common. Security at our places of worship is one thing, but security and a sense of belonging in our homes and in our everyday lives are equally—if not more—important.

Although social media has opened up our world, and I believe that it is a force for good, it has also allowed people with extreme views to amplify, recruit, organise and fundraise. That simply cannot go on. What action will the Scottish Government take to engage with social media platforms and make them understand their responsibilities to help to create a fairer and more equal world?

Aileen Campbell

I thank Anas Sarwar for raising those points, particularly on the amplification of messages of hate on social media—those toxic messages that do so much damage. I chair an action group that tries to establish much more cohesive communities and to tackle the prejudice that he talks about. We look at those issues, and we will investigate what more we can do in relation to social media platforms.

As we are elected, we are in a privileged position to be listened to and to influence more generally. We can use that privilege in one of two ways. We can show the leadership, empathy and resolve to build tolerant, peaceful and respectful communities in our world, and to reach out to those who feel threatened, vulnerable or fearful, by celebrating our diversity, or we can use our position to stoke up hate and use toxic language and the practice of othering. We have seen too much of that. We cannot remain immune from the toxicity of language that many choose to use and which will inevitably bring consequences such as those that we have seen in New Zealand.

I stand with Anas Sarwar. We should all resolve to call out hate, promote tolerance and respect, and show solidarity with our Muslim communities and friends. They need our support at this time and they need to know that we love and cherish what they contribute to our diverse Scotland. We should continue to explore ways in which we can call out hate, and we must ensure that we use every avenue open to us to have a peaceful, tolerant Scotland in which we cherish our diversity and preach tolerance and respect.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s comments on our abhorrence of the attack in Christchurch, and the comments made thus far. We, too, extend our deepest sympathies to all victims of this horrific act.

The cabinet secretary is right that Governments can and should take steps to reassure communities across Scotland, yet it is often by simple acts of unity and togetherness that we defeat such evil. Anas Sarwar is right—this is a job for all of us, together. What steps does the cabinet secretary suggest Scots can take to show minority communities that they are welcome neighbours, colleagues and friends?

Aileen Campbell

People can reach out to the Muslim communities in their areas. We saw a great strength in the solidarity of the gatherings in Glasgow. The Muslim leaders whom I spoke to were appreciative of the simple act of a phone call to reassure and stand in solidarity with them. More generally, we can call out the hate, we can call out the practice of othering and we can call out the toxicity of language that we see too often in political discourse and the media and on social media platforms.

That was one of the reasons why Humza Yousaf and I jointly launched the tackling hate campaign, which encouraged others to call out hate. People can use the police to call out hate, or third-party reporting centres if they want to do so anonymously. We underline that message—call it out and report it to the police or use the third-party reporting centres.

More generally, we can reach out not only at the point when something bad happens. We can reach out to build cohesive communities and show love and respect at all times, not just at the point when those things need to be most firmly understood. Those are the ways by which I urge members to encourage their constituents to reach out and to ensure that we underline the message of calling out hate when it happens.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I am grateful that Anas Sarwar’s question gives us the opportunity to stand together with a message of love and solidarity for the people of New Zealand, with revulsion at not only the violence but the white supremacist values that underpinned the violence, and with inspiration—I have certainly felt that—from the responses that have been shown by the people of New Zealand who, it seems clear, are not going to cede ground to the ideology of hatred and fear but are going to affirm their embrace of diversity, multiculturalism and respect.

The comments that have been made about social media are accurate, but we also need to acknowledge and admit to ourselves that, as a society, we have permitted a situation to develop where our mainstream media is awash with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, a sentiment that is all too often taken up by those in positions of power who frankly should know better than to pander to such attitudes. We have seen that far too much.

What does the Scottish Government have to do, not only in relation to the security and the policing aspects of the far-right threat that has been so deliberately cultivated but in relation to our education system? What are the opportunities to affirm positively the values of the society that we want to be? It is surely essential not just to counter the far-right threat with security but to counter it by building the values that we wish to express.

Aileen Campbell

I thank Patrick Harvie for raising those points. I absolutely agree—we have reached a moment when people must admit that the toxicity of the language that is used far too often in not just the mainstream media but many parliamentary chambers across Europe has created a culture in which, unfortunately, events such as those in Christchurch will inevitably happen. I encourage members to read Dani Garavelli’s article in The Scotsman, which called out that behaviour and the crocodile tears that are often shed when such traumatic events take place.

Patrick Harvie made some good points. On education, the capacities in curriculum for excellence ensure that young people gain an understanding of the need for tolerance and respect and of the need to be effective contributors to our society when they reach adulthood, but there is always more that we can do. One of the actions of the tackling prejudice action group is about what more we can do to link to other areas of education, such as youth work, to ensure that our young people go on to make a positive contribution to our society.

On this issue, as on any other, I am happy to engage with members on what more we can and should do or other ways in which we could work, because the issue is not owned by just one political party or the Government; it transcends party politics. It is about the type of country that we want to create—the type of Scotland that we want to be. It is about respecting diversity and other cultures and appreciating what they bring to our country. We must continue to promote that, to reject hate and to ensure that everyone who contributes to our country feels valued.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

As the convener of the cross-party group on racial equality, I associate myself with the words of Anas Sarwar, the cabinet secretary and the First Minister, who spoke about the Christchurch attack earlier in the week.

It is clear that we all agree that no form of hate crime can be tolerated. How can the Scottish Government promote the sense of collective responsibility that has been talked about and the idea that it is everyone’s job to stand in solidarity to call out hate in all its forms? How can people in communities be encouraged and made to feel confident enough to report hate crime when they encounter it?

Aileen Campbell

I will use the opportunity provided by Fulton MacGregor’s question to underline some of the points that I made to Liam Kerr. In September last year, Humza Yousaf and I, in partnership with Police Scotland, launched a campaign to encourage witnesses to report hate crime. We encourage people who have experienced or witnessed hate crime to call it out and to report it to the police or to use one of the many third-party reporting centres across the country. Community cohesion is important in allowing us to have strong, resilient and supportive communities and in ensuring that there is one Scotland where people live in peace and everyone has the opportunity to flourish and to feel valued and supported.

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Thank you for those contributions.

Job Creation (Annan)

2. Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what support it has given to create jobs at the former Pinneys plant in Annan. (S5T-01567)

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing)

The Scottish Government has provided a £1.7 million regional selective assistance grant to support the creation of up to 120 jobs at the former Pinneys plant in Annan.

Working with Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and Dumfries and Galloway Council, the Scottish Government sought to find a new investor. Together, we have been successful. On Friday 15 March, Atlantis-Pak purchased the site from Young’s Seafood and announced a £9 million investment plan, which is fantastic news for the people of Annan and the south of Scotland, following a difficult 12 months since the decision to close Pinneys.

Attracting a new international investor to the site sends a strong message that Scotland is open for business and that we are determined to work collaboratively at national and local level to secure investment and jobs for the people of Scotland.

Joan McAlpine

I agree—it certainly is fantastic news for the people of Annan. How will the venture contribute to inclusive growth in the local economy? What part, if any, did the United Kingdom Government play in securing that success?

Fergus Ewing

The UK Government was not involved in the work. The work was carried out in Scotland and was driven by our public agencies. I pay particular tribute to all the public servants involved, who did a superlative, first-rate job. They do not often enough get credit for their hard work, which in this case resulted quite directly in securing desperately needed investment in Annan.

On 13 March, we announced a proposed investment of £85 million in the Borderlands inclusive growth deal over the next 10 years, which will help to drive forward improvements in skills, digital connectivity, tourism and infrastructure development. We are slightly disappointed that the UK Government has not matched the level of our investment; it is putting in a lower sum of £65 million compared with our £85 million.

Joan McAlpine

I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s remarks about the hard work of the officials and share his disappointment at the lack of equivalent investment in the Borderlands deal by the UK Government.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the factory has been closed for some time and that the workforce has, to an extent, dispersed. Can he provide an update on what has happened to the workforce and on how successful the Scottish Government has been in finding those employees alternative employment?

Fergus Ewing

Ms McAlpine is absolutely right to raise that point because, sadly, there were over 400 redundancies at the site last summer. Since then, the public sector, working as team Scotland, has worked tirelessly to help individuals get the support that they need and deserve through partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—and through holding two job opportunity fairs, with one in July and one in October. I attended one of the fairs, which was a very well-run event in Annan that provided 200 individuals the opportunity to meet 19 employers and recruitment agencies, exhibiting over 350 vacancies.

That is all solid and valuable work that has been done by public servants who are wholly committed to trying to help individuals who suffer the hammer blow of redundancy by providing other opportunities or employment. I am pleased that a substantial number—a majority—of those who were made redundant and who sought employment have found new employment, training, self-employment or other opportunities.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

People living in Annan will be extremely disappointed that, in relation to what is a universally good news story, politicians are attempting to play petty politics and claim all the credit when they were not interested in stepping in immediately to provide the relief that families were looking for at the time.

That said, this is fantastic news for Annan. Can the minister tell me the current number of former Pinneys employees who are still looking for employment and what the Government will do to ensure that those individuals get first access to the vacancies?

Fergus Ewing

A huge amount of work has been done, as I have described already in my substantive answer to Ms McAlpine’s question.

In July 2018, the south of Scotland economic partnership announced funding of up to £250,000—£140,000 in 2018-19 and £110,000 in 2019-20—to create the local solutions team. That team is developing projects and opportunities for economic development and identifying sites for business expansion. An example is the clearance of the site at Stapleton Road in Annan next to the Pinneys site. [Interruption.]

Mr Mundell is keeping up a constant barrage sotto voce but, if he wants to listen for a moment, I can assure him that a substantial number of those who were made redundant last year and who sought employment have found new employment, training, self-employment or other opportunities. I am delighted that that is the case.

The measures that were announced yesterday will provide the opportunity for up to 100 people to obtain employment over the coming year; it is hoped that production will restart at Pinneys in the autumn. That is a terrific good news story and we are working hard with the company to see whether there are opportunities to build on that further.

I was pleased to have an initial discussion with Mr Bhagat yesterday during my meeting with him and his family in Annan, which was extremely cordial. In his short speech, Mr Bhagat mentioned the public servants by their Christian names and said that he is able to speak to any of those individuals at any time. He really appreciates what they have done. It is right to heap praise on the individuals working in the public service who helped to secure this terrific result.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I echo the cabinet secretary’s thanks to all the council and Government agency staff who have been involved in helping to secure a very welcome buyer for Pinneys. Like the cabinet secretary, I had the pleasure of meeting the new owner, Keshav Bhagat, yesterday, and I was encouraged by his desire to grow the workforce, hopefully beyond the initial plan of 120 posts.

Given the welcome financial support through Scottish Enterprise, will the cabinet secretary confirm that the workforce will benefit from the Scottish Government’s fair work first criteria, including full trade union recognition and collective bargaining?

I hope that the number of posts will grow, but it is still currently below the number that were lost when Pinneys closed. What more will the Government do to support and grow the job prospects for the people of Annan and the surrounding area?

Fergus Ewing

Mr Smyth makes a series of very fair points. On his first question, I can confirm that the regional selective assistance grant funding that has been agreed and will be provided is one of the first under the Scottish Government’s fair work first initiative, which is committed to fair work, job security, fair pay and a greater voice for workers. As part of the RSA application, the minimum salary at the plant will be in excess of £18,000, which is above the £9 an hour living wage. The majority of salaries will be well above that.

Mr Smyth is right that a greater number of people lost their jobs than the number of new jobs that are being provided at this stage, or at least in the autumn of this year. A huge amount of work is continuing, not only with Mr Bhagat and his team but with other potential employers in the Annan area. I am pleased that the local solutions team is playing an active part in that. I hope that Mr Smyth agrees that, if the UK Government was prepared to match the Scottish Government’s level of commitment of £85 million, instead of the UK’s £65 million, that would mean an additional £20 million that could be invested in the south of Scotland, which would help Annan and the rest of the area.