John Finnie has called on Police Scotland to drop plans to effectively merge the Argyll & West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire & Inverclyde divisions (also known as L Division and K Division) into a single command.

John is a former police officer and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice and Policing Committees. He criticised the proposal as centralisation that would undermine the cause of community policing, saying:

“Despite saying all the right things about community policing, Police Scotland’s actions, including this proposal, tell a different story. The national service suffers from an instinct to centralisation that frustrates the public’s wish for responsive, local policing.

“This is felt particularly keenly in rural police divisions, where there are greater distances and greater diversity between communities. Throwing Port Appin in together with Port Glasgow is not a recipe for locally-sensitive decision making.

“The switch from regional police services to a national one wasn’t ideal, but was made necessary by the UK Government’s cuts to the Scottish budget. I am determined that we minimise the downsides of national policing by making sure local communities are always involved in policing decisions.

“Police Scotland recently questioned, but significantly did not deny, my revealing their plan to remove specialist Road Policing Units from 24-hour cover north of Perth.

“There have been welcome moves like the introduction of a Policing Plan for every council ward, but decisions like the Road Policing Units cuts and now this reorganisation make it feel like we are going one step forward and two steps back.

“Policing in Argyll and Bute has altered enough in recent years, and not always for the better. I think we need to take the time to reflect on the less than two years’ experience of the single service. I’d like to see a moratorium on any further change which will inevitably see rural policing lose out.

“The folk of Argyll and Bute want ‘bobbies on the beat’ that they can trust. They don’t want the policing of their communities treated like some remote table-top management exercise.”

Scots police to investigate CIA torture

Posted: December 10, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in News
Tags: , , , ,

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalLord Advocate Frank Mulholland has ordered police to investigate whether the shocking US Senate report on the CIA’s programme of kidnapping and torture could lead to criminal charges in Scotland, after John raised the issue in a formal parliamentary question.

John pressed for an update on Police Scotland’s 18-month-long investigation into the use of Scottish airports by CIA ‘rendition’ flights, and asked that the evidence of the shocking US Senate report released yesterday be taken into consideration.

Mr Mulholland ordered Police Scotland to reopen the investigation into rendition flights in June last year, but little information on the progress of the inquiry has been forthcoming, leading John to question whether it has been given sufficient priority. He said today:

“If there were any doubt, the Senate report confirms that the CIA operated a brutally violent, international criminal enterprise over the seven years from September the 11th. Even for someone who has been following the widespread abuse of human rights in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, the details revealed in this document are shocking and upsetting.

“Even the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee now concludes that the United States, through the CIA, is guilty of torture.

“I hope this report and the explicit evidence it contains will now spur the Scottish authorities to make more progress in the criminal inquiry into the CIA’s use of Scottish airports as part of kidnap and torture programme. This is not an historic investigation; the overwhelming likelihood is that very many of those responsible continue to be active, and some responsible for the political direction of the Agency still hold very senior office in the United States.

“Given the Senate Committee’s conclusion that CIA leaders lied about their activities to policymakers, there is no reason to be complacent about the possibility that these crimes continue in some form.

“Today, International Human Rights Day, marks the one-year anniversary of the Scottish National Action Plan which Nicola Sturgeon launched with intention of making Scotland a ‘beacon’ of human rights. We owe it to ourselves, to the international community and most importantly to the CIA’s victims to live up to that ambition in our investigation of these terrible crimes.”

Torture anywhere in the world is a crime in Scots law under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the same law that allowed Augusto Pinochet to be arrested in the UK for torture carried out in Chile. There are additionally a variety of criminal offences which may have been committed on Scottish soil by virtue of the use of Scottish airports to refuel CIA aircraft.

John’s question, lodged at Holyrood this morning, reads:

Question S4W-23608: John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014

To ask the Scottish Government, further to the answer to question S4O-02812 by the Lord Advocate on 22 January 2014 (Official Report, c. 26845), what progress has been made by the investigation on the use of Scotland’s airports for rendition flights and whether the terms of the investigation will be amended in light of the publication of the US Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence’s report, Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

John is the Convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Group on Human Rights. This evening, he will be hosting a reception, jointly with Amnesty International, reflecting on the first year of the Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights and on the human rights situation in Scotland and around the world. The event will be addressed by Humza Yousaf MSP, the Minister for External Affairs and International Development.

John Finnie:

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am a member of Amnesty International.

As the Justice Committee’s rapporteur on the SNAP process, I welcome the opportunity to close the debate on behalf of the committee. Like our convener and the other members, I am pleased that the committee is engaged in the SNAP process and I am delighted that we have secured this inaugural debate, which comes a few days before international human rights day.

I, too, am glad that the SNAP process is up and running. I congratulate Professor Miller and the SNAP leadership panel on a productive first year. I commend the panel on a first-class annual report and I echo many members’ comments about its user-friendly nature. Perhaps that is a point on which other public bodies could act.

It was particularly encouraging to hear from Professor Miller last week that the human rights approach that is taken in Scotland is perceived internationally as being one of the most collaborative in Europe. Having spoken to Professor Miller today at another meeting, I know that he has just returned from the Ukraine. It is great that Scotland’s position on human rights is viewed positively on the international stage.

Securing this debate has been a positive development and I have enjoyed listening to the speeches.

The convener spoke about the comprehensive résumé of SNAP and outlined the role that the Justice Committee plays in that regard. Of particular significance was the phrase, “all the time”, because we consider human rights as regards all aspects of our undertaking.

I welcome the cabinet secretary to his new portfolio. I commend his use of the words, “protected, respected and realised”. That is terribly important, and he certainly outlined values that everyone in the chamber would sign up to, not least those of democratic renewal and the gaps that are to be filled. Like others, I welcome the announcement. Raising awareness is terribly important.

Elaine Murray talked about the Human Rights Act 1998 and the recent vote that we had. She said that human rights are not embedded in our law and listed some of the challenges that that gives rise to. She also talked about the need for cultural change—particularly with a gender perspective—around a number of women’s issues. That was important.

Margaret Mitchell referred to the action plan as being inclusive and collaborative in approach, which is entirely right. She went on to talk about the effect that that has on ownership of the plan, describing it as a live and vibrant plan. She laid out some of the criminal justice challenges that come with human rights. I commend the apologies legislation to which Margaret Mitchell alluded and welcome Conservative Party support for the motion.

Roderick Campbell talked about the need to protect the individual citizen and the wider role of human rights in that, particularly with reference to care homes. The suggestion of a career structure for workers in that important industry is an important one. Roderick Campbell also talked about the commitment of civic Scotland to human rights and the approach that we have seen there.

If I understood him correctly, John Pentland commendably said that he would oppose any attempt to undermine human rights, and I hope that we would all subscribe to that. He talked about the connection between violence against women and slavery and, like him, I hope for the bill that has come out of Jenny Marra’s hard work in that field.

Alison McInnes talked about why rights matter and awareness. She mentioned the issue that has exercised a number of committees: stop and search and the voluntary versus statutory nature of that. That particular example highlights the competing element of the rights-based approach. She also talked about the measuring process and the rights of the disenfranchised, citing mental health patients. That is a recurring theme.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab) Intervention: 

Is the member aware that the Public Petitions Committee, which I have the honour of convening, has recently heard a petition that argues that the lack of legal aid for defamation cases breaches human rights? Does the member agree?

John Finnie: 

Access to justice is a fundamental human right and there are challenges around the financing of such legal aid along with competing demands. Certainly if access to justice is not achieved it is a right denied.

Graeme Pearson talked about freedom of information and the fact that the citizen needs to trust the authorities. That is very important.

The action plan is a bold and holistic vision covering a number of policy areas that are being looked at. Health and social care was mentioned along with the rights in there that are used to justify the safety of individuals. The work that is being done to ensure justice for the victims of historic child abuse is particularly welcome, as is the development of a comprehensive human rights strategy on violence against women, and I think that we will hear more about that later this afternoon.

The action that SNAP is taking to embed human rights in the structures and culture of policing is obviously of considerable interest to the Justice Committee and the sub-committee on policing. We will watch developments there with interest, particularly as we consider the issues of stop and search and armed police. We certainly welcome SNAP’s focus on those key areas.

The Justice Committee has sought to consider human rights in our everyday work. We have asked difficult questions of decision makers on issues such as police complaints and investigations, prison monitoring and visiting arrangements, women offenders, modern slavery and, of course, stop and search. As we consider the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill, human rights considerations will be at the forefront of our minds, as they will be when we consider the human trafficking legislation and the legislation on fatal accident inquiries.

As rapporteur, I will continue to meet Professor Alan Miller to discuss the progress of SNAP. The committee will continue to engage constructively on those issues. As the convener said, we will be a critical friend of the process and will support the leadership panel in delivering SNAP while holding it and its partners to account to ensure that its objectives are delivered.

The second Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, said:

“‘Freedom from fear’ could be said to sum up the whole philosophy of human rights.”

As a Parliament we want to help to build a Scotland of confident and fearless citizens who are able to reach their potential free from fear, free from barriers and free from discrimination. With the European convention on human rights incorporated into Scots law under the Scotland Act 1998, this Parliament has human rights embedded in its DNA.

I very much enjoyed today’s debate. I welcome the SNAP annual report and the fact that there have already been tangible results. I welcome the fact that SNAP is gaining international renown and I welcome its ambition for a sustainable human rights culture in all areas of our lives.

I hope that we as a Parliament, we as a Justice Committee and we as individual members and citizens can help to turn that ambition into reality by 2018.

I support Christine Grahame’s motion.

Knocknagael Allotments Project open meeting - 8pm Monday 1st December - Lochadil House HotelJohn Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable land use by saving agricultural land it owns near Inverness.

Part of the government-owned Knocknagael Stud Farm on the south side of the city is earmarked to be sold off to developers, but community groups are calling for the land to be used for community food production, including new allotments.

John welcomed Nicola Sturgeon’s assurance of radical action on land reform, and called on the Scottish Government to live up to its promise to ‘lead by example’. He said:

“Going back to my time as the local councillor, there was uncertainty about the future of Knocknagael Stud Farm, so I was among those who welcomed its retention and recent substantial upgrade.

“Unfortunately the Government’s accountants thought the best way to pay for that upgrade was by selling off two of the Farm’s fields to a developer. In their first attempt at disposal, the Scottish Government failed to follow its own guidelines on best planning practice and rightly withdraw their application.

“Future generations would rightly question why a government which purports to understand the challenges of climate change and the need to ensure effective land use and local food production would show such scant regard to good agricultural land it owns.

“So, radical land reform, welcome as it is, is only part of the story. The Government says it plans to ‘lead by example’ so let see them do that.

“This coming Monday I will chair a meeting of a community group, brought together by Lochardil and Drummond and Holm Community Councils, who would like to use the land for allotments. I plan to ensure the Scottish Government’s ‘community empowerment’ and ‘sustainable land use’ credentials are tested, and that this land isn’t sold off but kept for community food production.”

Knocknagael Bull Stud Farm is part of the bull hire scheme that has been funded and operated by the Government since 1897, enabling crofters to access high quality bulls and supply quality calves to the beef industry throughout Scotland. For details of the plan to upgrade the Stud Farm see the Scottish Government press release.

The Save Knocknagael Farm Fields Facebook page includes details of Monday’s open meeting, and Parliamentary Questions that John has asked the Scottish Government.

The Corran Ferry

The Corran Ferry. Photo by Bob the Lomond on Flickr.

John has discovered that Highland Council officials have no legal advice to support their claims that continued funding for the Corran Ferry would breach EU ‘State Aid’ rules.

In fact, Highland Council have been specifically advised by the Scottish Government that public funding is allowed.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Finnie asked to see any legal advice Highland Council had regarding the ferry and State Aid rules, as well as the ferry’s accounts and analysis of its economic impact.

John explains:

“Despite suggestions to the contrary, Highland Council have freely admitted ‘We do not hold any information that can be termed as legal advice’ to support the assertion that continued running of the service, at other than a profit, may breach State Aid rules.

“Instead, I have been given an exchange of emails between a Highland Council and a Scottish Government official.

“The emails are peppered with phrases like ‘there appears a possibility,’ and ‘probably prudent to assume,’ when what residents of Ardnamurchan deserve is an unequivocal commitment that the Council is working in their interests to maintain this life-line service.

“From the information I have secured, I’m sure constituents would have far sooner been advised that ‘it is still possible for the public sector to subsidise elements of the service (probably the passenger-only part as per the Gourock-Dunoon case) under strict PSO [public service obligation] rules as a Service of General Economic Interest, to ensure citizens have the same access to mainland services at a fair cost,’ as the Government’s State Aid Unit told Highland Council in one email.

“Highland Council should be aware of their obligation to serve all their citizens, regardless of geography, and rather than looking for ways to run away from this lifeline service, they should be providing a long-term commitment to communities in Ardnamurchan.

“I have written to the Council Leader reminding the administration that if they are really committed to sustaining rural communities they will withdraw this threat and get back to the drawing board.”

John’s Speech During Child Poverty Debate

Posted: November 21, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

I, too, congratulate my colleague, John Wilson, on securing the debate. It is, however, with some frustration that I find myself debating the subject because we live in a very wealthy country in which there is absolutely no reason why there should be poverty.

I am happy to pay credit to those who have made efforts in the past to improve the situation, but we know that the United Kingdom is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and we know that that inequality is growing. That is reflected in the figures that we are discussing today. That said, it is absolutely the responsibility of everyone—the United Kingdom Government, the Scottish Government, local authorities and the national health service—to play their part.

It is clear that my preference would have been for independence and for Scotland taking full charge of its own affairs. We saw from the example of how the chamber dealt with the bedroom tax the consensus that can be built across it. I think that independence would have brought about a more humane regime.

We know that there are a number of contributory factors to the situation. I, too, thank the various organisations that have provided very helpful briefings to us. Low wages, for instance, are a contributory factor. My colleague John Wilson was quite right to highlight his constituency, because rurality compounds many of the factors that we are debating. Underemployment has been referred to as a contributory factor, and transport costs also have a significant implication.

On social security benefits, the universal credit is being trialled in Inverness, which is in my area. We also know about the sanctions. Simple things such as the cost of a telephone call have significant implications for individuals, and zero-hours contracts bring about the real dilemma of in-work poverty. I certainly do not think that it should be the state’s purpose to subsidise abusing employers who pay levels of wages such as they pay to their staff. To my mind, that is a catch-22 situation, as is the cost of childcare. We know, of course, that in the past six years, the cost of childcare has gone up by 44 per cent. Indeed, the minimum cost of raising a child—that might seem to many to be an unusual phrase—has gone up by 8 per cent since 2012 and by 11 per cent for a lone parent. During that period, there has been no rise in family benefits, of course.

Benefits are the subject of a lot of ill-informed comment. I want to comment on the level of unclaimed benefits in the UK. There is £10 billion of unclaimed benefits, half of which would go to working-age families. That money could be in individuals’ pockets and spent in communities. The effect of that money not being used is not only on individuals, but on our communities and local economies. Whose interests are served by that? Those of the people whom we are charged with representing certainly are not.

I commend the other steps that have been taken—free school meals, for instance, although there are capacity issues for local authorities with respect to them.

I want to touch on fuel poverty in the short time that I have left. Our new First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said in relation to a report on fuel poverty:

“There is no place for fuel poverty”.

That is absolutely right. We know that there is fuel poverty if 10 per cent or more of income is spent on meeting heating standards. There is the much talked about situation in which people have to make the terrible choice between switching on the heating or the cooker. The growth in food banks is an unacceptable issue that is being faced across the country.

The national performance framework includes the phrase:

“Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed”.

That will happen only if there is genuine redistribution of wealth. A living wage is a part of that and progressive taxation is another important part of it.

We must do everything with the powers that we have to eradicate child poverty.

Members’ Bill

Posted: November 17, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Uncategorized

I am grateful to members of the public who contacted me to urge me to continue with my proposed Local Government Accountability and Transparency Bill, only one aspect of which related to religious representatives on Education Committees.

I trust that it goes without saying that I will never ‘abandon’ the cause of democracy.

The purpose of any Members’ Bill is to put in place legislation and prior to that being possible there is a very clear protocol regarding the level of support required to progress to introducing a Bill i.e. the support of 18 MSPs, from at least half the parties or groups on the Parliamentary Bureau.

Given the campaign mounted by the religious groups, there was zero prospect of securing the necessary support to continue.

I will reflect on what other avenues there are to challenge this anachronism.