John’s Speech on Female Genital Mutilation

Given in Parliament on 5th February 2015

“I am a fan of international days. They bring about a worldwide focus on issues, and what issue could be more important than the one that we are discussing? I warm to the word that Kenneth Macintosh used: “solidarity”, which is entirely appropriate in this instance.

I welcome the references in the motion to the Women’s Support Project and the short-term working group, and I welcome the funding. I thank all the organisations that were actively involved in that sensitive work and I especially thank those that gave us briefings.

The Scottish Refugee Council’s report says:

“Because of the limitations of global and Scottish data, we do not seek to definitively quantify the nature and extent of FGM in Scotland, referring throughout our report to ‘communities potentially affected by FGM in Scotland’.”

There have been many references to that dearth of hard facts. Of course, the condemnation that is implicit in the motion is not conditional on numbers. Indeed, the Equal Opportunities Committee heard last year from one survivor who said that the issue

“is not a matter of numbers but a matter of need”—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 30 January 2014; c 1803.]

I think that we would all agree that one case is one case too many.

I commend the convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, who has grasped the issue and has been diligently meeting groups and showing the support of the Scottish Parliament. I very much enjoyed her speech.

I do not intend to mention nationality, countries or religions, because I think that this is an issue for us all to address if we want to understand the challenges. One of the reports uses the term, “informant”, which indicates the level of secrecy and sensitivity around the issue.

Effective interventions are terribly important. One of the private briefings that we got said that women presenting are unlikely to identify themselves as survivors. They are likely only to understand community-specific terminology, which frequently means, for example, “purification” or “cutting”, and they are unlikely to be willing to talk about “female genital mutilation”. They are unlikely to understand that their health issues are a direct result of female genital mutilation, due to the normalisation in affected communities, which is to say that all the women whom they know have the same problems. Furthermore, mothers and carers rarely know that female genital mutilation is illegal or harmful, and may say that they are opposed to it, even though they are not. That shows the scale of one of the challenges that we face.

Clearly, prevention is the key, and education is the key to prevention. As we have heard from others, there are challenges in respect of terminology, but discomfort about discussing the issue, for whatever reason, is not going to help prevention. We must talk about the issue, because we need disclosure from individuals, communities and professions.

Protection is also vital, not only for those who are at imminent risk, but for survivors and their loved ones. An often-missed aspect is the psychological damage that has been visited on individuals and their families. There is a need to protect and support familial and community relationships, which are, we must acknowledge, inevitably going to be strained by the involvement of third parties, however well-meaning they may be.

We also need to protect the communities from backlash from groups or individuals who misunderstand the issue. We must understand what is needed to provide protection: I suggest that it is not always money and that provision of services and ways of ensuring participation are important, too. As ever, I make a plea in relation to the unique nature of issues around access to such services in rural areas. The NHS will have procedures in place, but studies have shown that issues around geographic isolation are often compounded for visible ethnic minority groups in rural areas. I am sure that that will be borne in mind by the supporting groups.

We were asked what is required and who can tell us, and one of the answers in the report is:

“Policy makers and service providers should ensure that policy and practice development across all areas of work is shaped and driven by the experiences, needs and views of communities affected by FGM”.

None of us would take issue with that. It is important that it is done by and for the communities that are affected by female genital mutilation, rather than being done to them.

There is a key role for the police. As a former police officer, I know that practices have changed drastically in relation to such things as domestic violence and sexual crimes. Likewise, it is important that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and social work services can run joint investigations that are child centred, with outcomes for victims being at the forefront of everyone’s deliberations. Having said that, I do not want to suggest anything other than that I whole-heartedly believe that FGM is a violent act against women and must be stopped. It is a further expression of deeply entrenched gender inequalities, like forced marriage and honour-based violence.

I support the need for a national action plan. Many of the papers talk about behavioural change, but that takes time. I mentioned domestic violence and sexual crimes in our own communities and the different approach that is now being taken to that, so it is entirely possible to tackle FGM too. I noted the earlier comment about women’s support groups and the need to update materials that contain references to English laws and procedures, so I am happy to be reassured by the cabinet secretary that materials and videos will reflect that need. Although I note what Christian Allard said about Scottish solutions, I think that collaboration is hugely important. I know that that was not his suggestion.

The key with young folk is the application of getting it right for every child. We have heard about the brutality and the great pressure that women are placed under. We have heard about the secrecy, so it is important that we do not drive the problem underground. Women who spoke to us privately were adamant that they wanted action to be taken.

This has been a helpful debate and I hope that it will allow us to make progress.”

John on Good Morning Scotland- Arms Trade Divestment

Today John spoke on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland in favour of Glasgow University following its own lead in divesting from Carbon industries by divesting from the Arms Trade. – Segment begins at 2:44:54

John has previously called on the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body (SPCB) to ensure that the Scottish Parliament does not invest in funds that include tobacco, fossils fuels and armaments. During a question to the SPCB it emerged that 4% of its pension fund was invested in oil and gas, 1% in oil and gas equipment and distribution, 2% in tobacco and 4% in the arms industry.

Commenting at the time John said:

“It looks like rank hypocrisy when the Parliament claims to work for a healthy, sustainable and peaceful Scotland, but its money is going into bankrolling the very opposite.

“As Desmond Tutu has said, nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering of climate change. Nor should we benefit from the sale of weapons of war, or from the cigarettes that kill 13,000 Scots a year.

” I want an ethical investment policy that takes our money out of fossil fuels, tobacco and weapons, and puts it into socially useful activities like clean energy instead.”

John will continue in the coming weeks to push the SPCB on its investment policies.


John slams ‘mealy-mouthed’ armed police report

The Scottish Police Authority (SPA) report armed police has failed Scots by questioning only the presentation of the policy, not the substance, John Finnie has said.

The Inquiry into the public impact of Police Scotland’s Firearms Standing Authority follows on from Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Assurance Review, published in October 2014.

Both investigations were prompted by concerns, which John raised in early May last year, about changed policing procedures which saw armed police officers attending routine incidents for which no firearms capability was required, the so-called ‘standing authority’.

Following campaigning by John, and with much public support, the police changed that policy in October so that armed officers would only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life. Whilst Police Scotland has taken Armed Response Vehicle officers from routine duties, the standing authority itself remains in place.

John, who is a former police officer and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice and Police Committees, said:

“In its report, the SPA did little to examine the soundness and appropriateness of the original decision by the Chief Constable to give standing authority and, as a result, the public were understandably alarmed seeing unnecessarily armed officers patrolling our towns and villages. Instead the SPA focussed on public perception and made some passing remarks about Police Scotland’s communication efforts.

“It’s been clear throughout that Police Scotland displayed real arrogance by providing minimal information on this significant change on arming to the SPA. In turn the SPA failed the public by failing to give the matter the appropriate scrutiny. Sadly, rather than apologise, the SPA justifies this error by stating its ‘focus’ was on other matters. From an SPA point of view, it’s been everyone’s fault but theirs with mild rebukes to the Police, elected representatives and indeed the public.

“This report should have been very simple. Who was responsible for allowing the routine deployment of armed police officers on our streets and what steps have been taken to ensure no repetition?

“HMCIS suggested that rather than ‘operational independence’ we should apply the concept of ‘operational responsibility’. I prefer that term as it suggests engagement rather than a Chief Constable being able to charge ahead and do what they want without any regard to the public or their elected representatives.

“I understand that this report, which I was told would be available weeks ago, was delayed due to Police Scotland, who were given early sight of the report, demanding it be rewritten. I have to say that the whole tone suggests that is the case and I look forward to seeing Police Scotland’s official response to the SPA’s report within the correct timeframe.

“The public have no cause to be reassured by the mealy-mouthed words in this report nor the those of the Highlands and Islands Divisional Commander who only last week was complaining he couldn’t reach his agreed targets as he could no longer use armed officers.

“We must remain vigilant if we are to ensure Scotland retains an unarmed police service and not, as seems increasingly the case, becomes another version of the deeply flawed Metropolitan Police.”

Cautious Welcome for Moratorium on Fracking

While the Scottish Government’s moratorium on fracking is a welcome step, it falls short of the outright ban that most people want. Following the Smith Commission licensing powers are coming to Scotland and I agree with the Scottish Government, the Greens, and others that it’s therefore inappropriate for the UK Government to do anything to impose their desire to move to unconventional gas extraction.

The Minister’s statement announces “a full public health impact assessment”, however, I am firmly of the view that a sufficiency of evidence already exist to impose a ban now. INEOS and its “economic importance” and “We should never close our mind to the potential of new technologies” were phrases perhaps more aligned to the Minister’s personal outlook and failed utterly to reassure those of us of a different outlook.

Finally, some words on the Labour Party’s position: ‘confused’ – like the SNP they voted against a moratorium in an earlier vote; ‘subject to change’ – from last Sunday’s total opposition to Monday’s ‘no-show’ for the Westminster Infrastructure debate.

I will continue to campaign for an outright ban. No fracking!


John Finnie with Friends of the Earth's Mr Frackhead.
John with Friends of the Earth’s Mr Frackhead.

A9 speed camera results should end the political game-playing

John Finnie three-quarterData from the three months since average speed cameras were installed on the A9 and the HGV speed limit raised were released today, showing that excessive speeding has collapsed by 97% and journey time reliability has improved.

John has welcomed the huge success of the changes, and hopes the figures should finally put an end to the “political game-playing” that has seen some politicians seek to derail the multi-agency safety campaign.

He said:

“The facts and figures released today show that the installation of average speed cameras and the increase of the HGV speed limit have been a huge success.

“On Scotland’s most notorious road, excessive speeding is down by a huge 97%. Overall speeding is down from one in three drivers to one in twenty. Journey times are more reliable, and the Road Haulage Association say road freight is moving quicker and more smoothly than before.

“This is fantastic news for all users of the A9, which after only three months is already a safer and more reliable route.

“This evidence should put an end to the political games that some have been playing with the safety of A9 users over the last few years. The facts show how unfounded the politically-motivated rumours and scare stories have been.

“I hope now that if any candidate wants to gain political advantage from the A9, they should do it by working as hard as they can to support the multi-agency safety efforts that are saving lives.

“The A9 Safety Partnership should be very proud of what they have achieved for the people of the Highlands. However, their job is made that much harder by rising traffic volumes. As well as giving full support to the safety programme, the Scottish Government should relieve pressure on the A9 by doubling the railway line between Inverness and Perth.”

Independents and Greens back PCS strike

Scottish Parliament staff in the PCS public services union will be on strike tomorrow, as part of their fight for fair pay and pensions. John, along with the four other members of the Independent/Green Group of MSPs will be showing his support by refusing to cross the Holyrood picket line.

John, his fellow independent MSPs Jean Urquhart and John Wilson, and the Green MSPs Alison Johnstone and Patrick Harvie will stay out of the Parliament building during the strike, which runs until 5pm.

John said:

“PCS members, and all public sector workers, have my absolute support in their battle for fair treatment. Across our vital public services, workers are facing lower real wages and higher workloads as the Scottish Government allow them to bear the brunt of the UK Coalition’s cruel and gratuitous austerity project.

“With Labour signed up to the Coalition plan, the SNP have been a welcome voice against the cuts agenda. But their voice is not enough. John Swinney has the power to break the Tory pay squeeze on Scotland’s public servants; he should use it.”

John asks Argyll & Bute councillors to reject election poster ban

Photo by DorkyMum on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by DorkyMum on Flickr.
Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
John has written to each of Argyll & Bute’s 36 councillors asking them to vote down a plan to ban the traditional display of election posters on lampposts, when it is considered by the meeting of the full Council, this Thursday (22 January).

The ban proposal was narrowly passed by the Council’s Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee when the Chair, Liberal Democrat Ellen Morton, used her casting vote to break a tie on the issue. The ban was originally proposed by Cllr Morton and Conservative councillor David Kinniburgh.

Mr Finnie intervened after he was alerted to the plan by Stacey Felgate, the Chair of Oban’s new community café, Grassroots. The café is intended to provide a place for people to socialise and discuss community issues, and it was one such discussion that led to a campaign group being set up to oppose the poster ban.

John said:

“The election-time display of candidates’ posters is a Scottish tradition and a visible expression of our democratic values. It reminds us that an election should be – as the referendum was – an occasion for community discussion, not just an order form for the private expression of self-interest.

“With the wonderful exception of the referendum, Scotland has a crisis of democratic participation. Scotland has lower turnout, fewer candidates per seat, and less of our population putting themselves forward for election than any comparable European country. It is perverse to attack a tradition that is one of the few factors mitigating this situation.

“Sadly there have already been other Councils that have banned election posters, while of course doing nothing that might inconvenience commercial advertisers. Banishing our democratic process from the streets is another step along the path to privatisation of public space, where making and spending money are the only acceptable activities.

“This proposal has passed through the Council with unseemly haste, with the result that councillors have very little real evidence to go on. For example, it is claimed that the measure is necessary to save expense caused by candidates being late in taking their posters down, but councillors have net even been told how much the cost to the Council is – or if there even is one.

“I suspect there are some who support the ban precisely because it will harm participation. There is a certain kind of politician that doesn’t want to deal with the demands of an engaged electorate. I hope the Councillors of Argyll & Bute will show that they are the kind who are unafraid of democracy – in all its noise and colour – by voting down this ban on Thursday.”

Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands / A’Ghàidhealtach agus na h-Eileanan