Responding to the announcement that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) and the Scottish Police Authority will review the standing authority for a small number of firearms officers carry firearms, John said:

“I welcome the reviews, particularly the regard that they will have for the community impact of this changed policy and the recognition that the police service must enjoy public confidence.

“I’m pleased the statement states “one of the principals of good governance is that the public voice is appropriately heard”. I would argue that the public have made their views clear on this issue; they don’t want armed officers walking about their streets attending to routine police tasks.

“The big question remains whether the chief constable, who thus far on this and other issues has appears dis-interested in public opinion, will recognise he’s a public servant and revert to the policy which previously served the Highlands and Islands so well.”

John’s Speech on Gaza

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

I, too, thank Drew Smith for securing the debate and for the well-crafted motion to which other members have referred. I should declare that I am a member of the cross-party group on Palestine and of Amnesty and Oxfam, for whom—as others have done—I thank for their briefings. What the whole affair has cried out for is honest brokers, and such organisations have performed that role.

A number of terms have been repeated throughout the debate, one of which is “disproportionate”. I certainly view the actions of the Israeli Defence Force as disproportionate, but I am concerned that that might suggest that, if there had been less bombing and less abuse hurled at the Gazan population, that would have been acceptable. As other members have done, I am happy to say unreservedly that violence from whatever quarter is unacceptable.

The term “indiscriminate” has been used, too, but I am not sure that Israeli soldiers writing in children’s school books in schools that they have destroyed and writing the names of their regiments on classroom walls are anything other than calculated acts. I worry that that is part of a wider contempt for the mere existence of the Gazan community.

The arms industry is pernicious worldwide, and it has been heavily involved in the conflict. The Israeli Government has a wonderful test centre of Gazan guinea pigs or sitting ducks right on its doorstep. It is my view that there are sick minds at play. We do not need new weapons; as my colleague Claudia Beamish said, we do not need so-called smart weapons. We saw at first hand one of the consequences of those so-called smart weapons—the deaths of 11 members of one family in a very confined area. Therefore, I am proud that the Scottish Government has called for an arms embargo. Like my colleague Cara Hilton, I contrast that with the virtual silence from elsewhere.

I commend my colleague Jean Urquhart’s motion, to which Alison Johnstone alluded, which referred to a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. I think that that is the route that we need to take. Other members have talked about the role of the UN. I welcome the description of events by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, as “intolerable” and “unacceptable”.

We have heard about the challenges of delivering aid, which are compounded by the dearth of infrastructure that exists in Gaza.

I want to say something in relation to Drew Smith’s comments about the Scottish community and what we heard from Mr Macintosh. In my view, a victim is a victim. I do not need to know whether they profess to have a faith or have no faith—I think that a victim is a victim, full stop. I abhor Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and I commend the work of Jewish communities such as those in Cleveland and Boston in the US, which have been very active, as well as the organisation Codepink.

The motion talks about living in peace with dignity and security. I commend to people who have not already seen it the YouTube clip of Rafeef Ziadah—I hope that I have pronounced her name right—reading her wonderful poem, “We teach life, sir”. There is a line in it that goes, “Every day we wake up and we teach life.”

Life will be intolerable for the citizens of Gaza if the blockade is maintained. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN have said that it is illegal. We must end that blockade now, and we must renew our efforts to ensure that there is a lasting peace and a two-state solution.

You can watch John’s speech here: <ahref=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yesbQwxsD1I#t=4015″>”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yesbQwxsD1I#t=4015&#8243;

The motion debated was as below.

S4M-10675 Gaza

That the Parliament regrets and unreservedly repudiates the ongoing violence and loss of human life in Gaza and Israel, which, according to journalists running risks to their own safety to report from the area, stood, as at 28 July 2014, at more than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 45 Israelis; considers that the continuation of violence will further escalate the already severe and enduring humanitarian catastrophe in the densely populated Gaza Strip; believes that the number of Palestinian civilian fatalities, including many women and children, indicates a disproportionate action by the Israeli military; condemns both indiscriminate rocket attacks and military bombardment of civilians and believes that hospitals and schools, in particular, should be places of safety and therefore also condemns attacks on them or their use to store or fire weapons; confirms its view that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in the continued failure to achieve a political solution to a problem that cannot be solved by violence; supports the comments made by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on 24 July, who has described the situation as an “intolerable, unacceptable crisis” and agrees with him that it is imperative for the killing to stop; notes calls for the international community to fully use its influence to break the cycle of failed talks, continuing occupation and outbreaks of violence that threaten the prospect of a two-state solution by renewed and robust efforts to broker peace and justice in the region with the objectives, amongst others, of an immediate interim ceasefire, a long-term plan to prevent further violence, efforts to aid the necessary rebuilding of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including the importation of vital humanitarian supplies into Gaza, and crucially a process that can finally lead to the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel in accordance with previous UN resolutions, and notes calls for the UK Government to support these objectives and to prohibit the supply of equipment or parts of equipment that are likely to be used against civilians and for the Scottish Government to do all that it can in support of the same and to foster and maintain good community relations between all religious and ethnic groups who have their home in Glasgow and across Scotland and who, in common with people around the world, wish to see a settlement that respects the right of all human beings, irrespective of religion or race, to live in peace with both dignity and security.

You can read John’s speech from the Trident debate on August 6th 2014

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): “I declare my membership of Scottish CND.The Trident weapons system is the easiest way to illustrate a perversity of thought and futility of expenditure that are not unique to the UK, as the Trident nuclear system is heavily dependent on the US in many ways.

The obligation on every country—this applies no less to the minister here—is to assess the risks that a country faces and put in place mechanisms to address those risks. I commend the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s report, “No Need To Be Afraid”, which highlights that the risks shared by many countries relate to things such as continuity of energy supply, food, water—which is not a challenge for Scotland—and cyber attack. As many others have said, Trident and other such systems have done nothing to offset those risks.

We need human security. In 2003, the UN Commission on Human Security said:

“Human security means protecting vital freedoms. It means protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and situations, building on their strengths and aspirations. It also means creating systems that give people the building blocks of survival, dignity and livelihood …To do this, it offers two general strategies: protection and empowerment. Protection shields people from dangers … Empowerment enables people to develop their potential and become full participants in decision making.”

I like the use of the words “speediest safe withdrawal” that are in the minister’s motion. I do not see that as a withdrawal from Scotland, but as a withdrawal from service. That is a rich prize to gain and a rich contribution to give the world. I also like the words that suggest collaborative working. I commend Patrick Harvie’s amendment, which enhances that aspect and brings in the constitutional element. I hope that the Government will support that call.

We occupy a small planet. I see an important role for the UN. The UN General Assembly’s very first resolution, which was adopted unanimously, called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. There have been many fine words along those lines and I will quote some more of them.

“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”

Those are very fine words indeed. However, when one knows that they were uttered by President Ronald Reagan, that perhaps takes off some of their edge.

How has the scientific community turned its attention to the cause of mankind? The cause of mankind will never be served by the creation of more, better or smarter weapons. The drone wars are a cowardly compact, with an equally flawed legal basis for waging them.

It is interesting that a US President called on scientists to turn their great talents to “world peace”. In this unequal world, peace will always be more likely if we see progress for mankind, which would come with the eradication of malaria or AIDS. Indeed, that would do far more for humanity than nuclear weapons.

There is growing inequality around the globe, which could lead to conflict. Therefore, it is important that we share our resources with the developing world.

I see arms diversification as the future. I commend the reference in the Government’s white paper to that issue. We know that foreign and defence policies are inextricably linked. I commend some of the actions that have happened in Scotland. This city played its part, at a time of thawing relations in the cold war, when the Edinburgh conversations, which were high-level discussions between academics and military people, contributed to making the world a better place. Talks took place in Craigellachie about the dispute in the caucuses. That is the future that I want to see for Scotland: talks not tanks; talks not Trident.

We have a glorious opportunity. I differ from the minister, in that the issue is not about defence procurement; rather, it is about having a new outlook and a new Scotland—an outward-looking Scotland that is committed to social and environmental justice. We have one world; we have one humanity. If we work together and if Neil Findlay, for example, focuses his mind on the issue, he will see that, if he is genuinely committed to the eradication of nuclear weapons, there is but one route to go.

Neil Findlay: I hope that Mr Finnie will reflect on his emphasis on the word “genuinely”. Many people on the Labour side genuinely have that interest. He should not just assume that it is only on one side of the argument that people’s convictions are genuine. That is an insult.
John Finnie: Mr Findlay misheard what I said, because I was commending his position and saying that, given that position, we should all work together for a better cause. The likelihood is that the withdrawal of Trident will not be delivered within the present constitutional settlement, but that it would be delivered with a strong will. Bits of paper will not deliver it, but a commitment to deliver it will. I do not doubt for one second the commitment of the Scottish Government and those on the yes side to deliver that better world. “

You can also watch it using the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isrBkwyX-l8&list=UUMfSH3HULOeoeEbxHkqF21A#t=5069

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

To ask the Scottish Government what representations it has made to the United Kingdom Government about equalising the minimum wage regardless of age, given the impact on youth employment. (S4O-03427)

The Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women’s Employment (Angela Constance): The Scottish Government believes that work should be fairly rewarded. With independence we would ensure that the minimum wage would rise by at least inflation and establish a fair work commission, which, along with assessing the minimum wage, would be asked to consider the appropriate minimum wage for young people and apprentices.

The Low Pay Commission’s call for evidence for the 2015 minimum wage rate asks specifically for information on the minimum wage for young people, and the Scottish Government welcomes views on that issue, prior to submitting our response.

In response to the call for evidence in 2014, the Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism raised the importance of the national minimum wage for apprentices and called for it to be continuously assessed to ensure that it keeps pace with the rising costs that are faced by our young workforce.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I call Neil Findlay. Briefly, please.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab): Why does the minister not support using the powers—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sorry; I meant to call Mr Finnie.

John Finnie: I thank the minister for her response, although it sounded as though she was saying that we have made no representations. I encourage her to make representations.

In 1998, the UK Government made the national minimum wage law in order to ensure that employees in the UK are provided with

“decent minimum standards and fairness in the workplace”.

Any discrimination, including age discrimination, is unwelcome and I would encourage the minister to make those representations and to make a commitment to eradicating such discrimination in an independent Scotland.

Angela Constance: I encourage Mr Finnie to read the Official Report of today’s session.

In principle, people who are doing the same job should get the same rate of pay. That is an important principle. I believe that, in an independent Scotland, Mr Finnie and I will be on the same side and the fair work commission will have an important role. I am on record as supporting the Scottish Youth Parliament’s one fair wage campaign.

Although I recognise that employers expect to pay people who are in training a different rate from those employees who are time served or fully qualified, we have a lot to learn from the European experience. In some European countries those differentials are not too great, while in others they are quite stark. I believe firmly that people should get the same rate of pay for the same job.

 

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzH65OVSlFw&list=UUMfSH3HULOeoeEbxHkqF21A#t=1044

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

6. To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it provides to local authorities for the education of Gypsy Travellers. (S4O-03406)

The Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages (Dr Alasdair Allan): The Scottish Government provides core funding to the Scottish Traveller education programme, whose role includes the provision of advice and support for both families and professionals. Within STEP’s remit was the production of guidance for local authorities, schools and support services, which was entitled “Inclusive Education: Approaches for Scotland’s Travelling Communities within the context of interrupted learning”. The guidance was published in March 2011 and was disseminated through the Traveller education network, of which 22 Scottish local authorities are members. That resource is now available online through Education Scotland.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education also produced a publication in 2005 entitled “Taking a closer look at: Inclusion and Equality—meeting the needs of Gypsies and Travellers”, which built on the self-evaluation guidance that is given in “How good is our school?” The guide can be used by schools to evaluate the quality of their approaches to inclusion and equality in relation to Gypsy Travellers and to provide examples of best practice.

John Finnie: I am grateful to the minister for that detailed response. The minister is aware of the level of disengagement that there is with the educational process among the Gypsy Traveller community. That is particularly the case in secondary education and it is particularly the case with young men. Will he look at ways of having contact with the Gypsy Traveller community to explore how to ensure that their lifestyle is supported by education rather than the education system excluding them?

Dr Allan: The member is right to point out the very specific needs of the Traveller community. Of course, the Scottish education system and the curriculum for excellence are founded on the idea that all children, regardless of their ethnic group or their background, have a right to an education that meets their needs and to a system that is flexible enough to cope with their needs rather than demanding that they conform to it. Institutions such as the Traveller education network have done a great deal to promote that further understanding and to ensure that we all listen to the very specific concerns that that community rightly made clear.

John’s amendments supporting workers’ rights have been accepted.  John was delighted that his amendments to the Court Reform Bill, which addressed concerns by the STUC and others that complex cases will no longer get automatic sanction for counsel if they cannot be taken to the Court of Session, have been accepted by the Scottish Government.

John’s amendments put the “Taylor Test” into the Bill to provide certainty for people without resources that they will not be outgunned in the courts by larger organisations.  John also secured an undertaking ensuring that certain personal injury cases below five thousand pounds can be raised in the new specialist personal injury court.

Speaking after the Committee vote John said: “Section 69 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, brought in by the UK Government, shamefully removed employers’ statutory liability in workplace injury cases making it harder for workers to press their claims against employers. I am grateful to the Scottish Government for agreeing the changes which go some way to mitigate the effects of Section 69. With independence we can address this specific issue of liability and start reversing the decades of attacks on workers’ terms and conditions imposed by successive UK Governments.”

During the Ministerial Statement on Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2012, Tuesday 10th June 2014, John pressed the Minister for Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse on targets for district heating schemes.

The statement the Minister provided to Parliament read:

“For example, through the heat network partnership, the Scottish Government and our agencies will build on the work that underpins the Scottish Government’s draft heat generation policy statement to commit resources to supporting delivery of district heating projects, and we are actively engaged with projects across Scotland.

The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, has committed to set up a working group under the expert commission on district heating to consider the existing regulatory context and to develop proposals for a regulatory framework. As part of that work, it will investigate how best to ensure that public sector buildings connect to district heating networks, where they are available and when that is cost effective.”

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): I apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to the minister for missing his opening remarks. I welcome the minister’s comments on district heating—in particular, the announcement on the expert commission, which will clearly require collaborative working, not least with planning and development officials.

The minister has assured us of co-ordination at the highest level. There will need also to be co-ordination at local level. Will he set out a timeframe with specific targets for district heating schemes?

Paul Wheelhouse: Mr Finnie might be aware that that matter is in the ministerial portfolio of my colleague Fergus Ewing, who has been very supportive of this agenda. I want to thank him for the action that he has taken.
We have an opportunity to consider the current regulatory framework, how it influences take-up of district heating and what kind of regulatory framework we might need in the future. I encourage those who have an interest in the issue to engage in that process. I will ask Fergus Ewing to address the point that the member raises in due course, once further information comes forward about the process.

Commenting after his question John said: “While I was disappointed that the Minister was not able to provide a clearer timeframe, I was heartened to see that the Scottish Government is taking serious steps to ensure that district heating schemes work to their fullest.”

 

You can watch John’s question here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBEPTqwv20s#t=1965