John Campaigns to Save Highland Veterinary Disease Laboratory

 

John  has launched a campaign to retain a vital veterinary disease surveillance service for the Highlands. Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is currently consulting on closing the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre, operated by its SAC Consulting division.

Such a closure would leave Highlands & Islands farmers with only the disease surveillance centre (DSC) in Thurso as cover, which is not equipped to handle post-mortems on large carcasses. This would mean animals would have to be transported to other DSCs, some of which do not have microbiology laboratories, meaning further delays in detecting infectious diseases.

Commenting John said:

“It is clear that the removal of this vital service from the Highlands will ultimately cause far more damage than any short term profits that may be accrued through its closure. Without this service a very high proportion of Scotland’s holdings will be serviced by only one centre, a centre which is not equipped to carry out post-mortem on large carcases, such as cattle or horses. This means additional delays to the possible detection of infectious diseases which may be spreading across the Highlands.

“The removal of this service will also impact upon rural vets who often rely on the expertise and skill of those based at the Inverness DSC to fulfil their role as practitioners much more effectively. This loss of expertise will impact far more widely on the Highlands than is being currently stated. We will also see greater difficulties and delays in both animal welfare legal and wildlife crime legal cases. “

Yesterday John met with SAC Consulting’s Managing Director, Mike Wijnberg, and its Head of Veterinary Services, Brian Hosie, at the Inverness Disease Surveillance Centre. He cast doubt on whether the plan to close the Centre had been properly considered, but was assured that retaining the service remained an option, confirming the opportunity for campaigners to win a positive outcome.

John said:

“This appears to be a rushed decision that would benefit from a second look from the new Managing Director. Mr Wijnberg took up post within days of the announcement, and although he assures me that the consultation process was genuine, there appear to be significant gaps in the information he has available.

“SAC were unable to answer questions on staff engagement and, given the close links between disease surveillance service and public health, I was dismayed to hear they hadn’t contacted the Director of Public Health at NHS Highland about the proposals.”

“The assumption that the lab-based service can be replaced by veterinary practices will undertake post-mortems in the field seems speculative at best.”

“Some world-leading work takes place on this site, and this expertise is likely to be lost in the event of closure.

“Mr Wijnberg assures me that ‘the status quo remains an option’ and I intend holding him to that. I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, and I would encourage the public to respond to the consultation and join the Facebook campaign.

John has established a Facebook group for anyone who would like to take part in the campaign to save the Centre at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SaveInvernessDSC/

Immigration is good for Scotland – so bring back the post-study visa

John Finnie speaking at the University of the Highlands and IslandsThis post first appeared on the Scottish Green Party blog.

Scotland has some of the best universities in the world, and would benefit from international graduates of those universities staying in Scotland and contributing their new skills to our economy.

That seems an uncontroversial statement, and indeed has just been endorsed by 100 leaders from academia and business, but we face a battle to get the UK immigration system to acknowledge it.

Until 2012, we had a ‘Post-Study Work Visa’ that allowed students to live and work in Scotland for two years after graduation. It began in Scotland as ‘Fresh Talent’ in 2005, before becoming a UK-wide scheme as part of the new immigration system in 2008.

But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition abolished post-study work visas altogether in 2012, as part of their UKIP-appeasing campaign against migrants.

The door to positive change was opened a crack by the Smith Commission, in which all five parties agreed that the Scottish and UK governments should begin discussions on a new post-study work visa for Scotland.

Now the Europe and International Development Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, has convened a cross-party working group to examine how we can bring this about. I’ve been appointed by the Scottish Greens to represent our party on this new group.

I’m very proud that Greens on both sides of the border have refused to go along with the anti-immigrant rhetoric indulged by the old Westminster parties. When Labour released their infamous “Controls on Immigration” coffee mug, we countered with one that reads “Love immigration – vote Green”.

Greens recognise that people are an asset. We know that migrants make huge contributions to Scotland’s economic, social and cultural life. We’re not fooled by the right-wing parties that seek to blame immigration for the damaging effects of their own policies on everything from housing to low pay.

Nowhere is that more clear than in Scotland’s higher education sector. Our wee country boasts five of the world’s top 200 universities, attracting students from all over the world – our own Co-Convenor, Maggie Chapman, was one of them when she came to Scotland from Zimbabwe to study.

International students make Scotland’s universities the world centres of education that they are, but as soon as they graduate they are forced out of the country. They take their years of top-class education, their skills, and their international experience with them when they go.

The University of California system has invested almost incalculable sums of public money in educating students from across the US. With no California version of the Home Office to throw them out, many of those students stayed in California upon graduation. The results include Silicon Valley.

If we want our brilliant international graduates to help us build our own Silicon Glen, or solve the engineering challenges of clean energy, or create the best health service in the world, then we have to stop letting a paranoid immigration system throw that talent away.

This is just one of many, many ways in which the anti-immigrant obsession of Westminster politics harms both Scotland and the people who would like to make their homes here. But with cross-party effort, it might very well be one we can change.

John’s Speech on Protecting Workers’ Rights

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of addressing the Public and Commercial Services Union annual general meeting in Glasgow. They were a fine bunch of people. There was an extra pleasure in being asked to present an award to Louise MacBean, who works for Bòrd na Gàidhlig at Great Glen house in Inverness. She was given an award, as a young trade unionist, for the level of recruitment that she had achieved—a percentage of Great Glen house staff in the 70s. I had the good fortune at the end of that meeting to have a talk with Louise—a wee bit in Gaelic and a wee bit in English—and it transpired that the figure was wrong: she has actually recruited up to 90 per cent of the staff at Great Glen house.

To pick up on the points that Gordon MacDonald made, the significance of what Louise MacBean has done is in the collaborative workforce that it will bring about, which will bring about good relations. People being engaged in trade unionism does not suggest fractious workplaces, but quite the reverse; problems can be solved.

A number of members mentioned National Museums Scotland staff. They are PCS members, and PCS has been representing them very ably. I hope that there is a resolution to that situation, and I urge the Scottish Government to redouble its efforts in intervening.

People have also mentioned the porters in Dundee. I am inherently suspicious of any employer that is unwilling to engage with ACAS: employees are not allowed access to a tribunal without having exhausted all internal mechanisms.

It is important that we are in no way complacent. Our basis for discussing and welcoming trade union rights is the foundation that was set out by my colleague Alison Johnstone. She spoke about the relationship between various human rights, which should be the basis of our approach to everything in our policy making.

I support the Scottish Government motion; I support the devolution of powers, and not just employment powers, but a wide range of powers. Why? It is because I think that we can do things better.

I like the wording of the motion; I like the word “protection”. What is that protection? It is the protection of hard-fought-for rights. A lot of people—many brave individuals—put a great deal of effort into winning those rights. I also like the word “promotion”. Not many people seem to be keen to promote workers’ rights, but that is a very positive word to associate with this subject. I hope that the devolution of employment rights does not just bring about protection; I want enhancement of those rights. There is an opportunity to improve workers’ terms and conditions, so the on-going debates on that are important.

The minimum threshold for strikes has been covered by many members already—as, of course, is the case for a number of issues at this stage of the debate. There seems to be some rank hypocrisy on the part of the UK Prime Minister—there is nothing new about that, of course. I am drawn to the words of Grahame Smith, who is the general secretary of the STUC, who says that the proposals would

“effectively ban the right to take industrial action in the UK”.

What a retrograde step that would be. He goes on to describe “some of the weakest legal protections in the developed world” for workers. That is a damning indictment of where we have got to.

I ask whose interests are served by the proposals. It is certainly not those of the people of Scotland, nor is it those of workers in general.

I believe that trade unions and staff associations play a positive role in the workplace in a preventative way, rather than as a cure. Good working relationships are good for business and for productivity. Matters reach employment tribunals because there has been a failure to operate systems. The role of ACAS is very important.

The word “disincentive” has been used in relation to the changes that have taken place to employment tribunals. Who in their right mind is going to spend a sum of money—a fee—in an attempt to recoup half that sum of money in holiday pay, for instance? It is ridiculous.

If we had been debating a different subject, and I had seen that there had been an 85 per cent drop in sex discrimination cases, a 50 per cent drop in race-related cases and a 47 per cent drop in disability-related cases, that would be a cause for rejoicing but, as has been said, the reduction is because people are having to weigh up whether their moral and legal position is worth the expenditure. Clearly, it is in the interests of people who use bad work practices that those fees continue.

The term “access to justice” is frequently bandied about in the chamber, not just in this debate, but in relation to many other matters. It is clear that workers are not gaining access to justice as a result of the changes.

Citizens advice bureaux have been mentioned. Their staff are the people who will pick up many of these issues, as we all do.

Alex Johnstone mentioned EU-wide benefits. The UK Government is supportive of TTIP. My colleague Alison Johnstone referred to that. That will be a race to the bottom, not simply for workers’ rights, but also in terms of environmental rights and free trade. That seems to be the rationale that is used to lend support to that agreement. As I say, it will be a race to the bottom, as we have seen from experiences elsewhere. We watch that situation with alarm.

The motto “Unity is strength” is often used by trade unions. Of course, there is also unity among the multinational corporations and those who subscribe to the neo-liberal agenda. Stewart Stevenson touched on that when he spoke about a human rights approach involving carers, who are a very important part of our community.

The Westminster Prime Minister has referred to “the health and safety monster”,which he wants to slay. The tactic of ridicule and misrepresentation is terribly important.

A number of members talked about workplace deaths. The 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster was commemorated in many ways: the most shameful way in which it was commemorated was through the change to the offshore regime that was made by the UK Government. That was a green light for dangerous workplace activities. Of course, those activities impact not only on the workforce, but on the wider community. Opportunities for the Health and Safety Executive to be proactive have been removed, so I am sure that devolution of those powers would help greatly, because of differing priorities. Politics is about priorities, and we would make ensuring that our workers and workplaces are safe one of our priorities.

I commend colleagues who have talked about blacklisting. It is a pernicious practice that exists throughout the United Kingdom. The issue of the umbrella companies is a sad indictment.

On corporate manslaughter, people have talked about the Government’s bill and Patricia Ferguson’s member’s bill that deals with industrial accidents, both of which are getting a lot of scrutiny at the moment.

It is important that we in Scotland are not complacent about the workplace. There are issues of underrepresentation according to gender, race and disability in relation to modern apprenticeships.

I welcome the memorandum of understanding between the Scottish Government and the STUC, although I wonder whether biannual meetings are sufficient. A rights-based approach must be taken. The fair work convention will go some way towards delivering that.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

John’s Speech on 10th Anniversary of Gaelic Language Act

Mòran taing, Presiding Officer. Tha mi ag iarraidh taing a thoirt dha Aonghas Dòmhnallach airson na h-obrach cudthromaich aige, gu h-àiraid air a’ ghluasad seo. Tha mi cuideach ag iarraidh taing a thoirt dha Bòrd na Gàidhlig, agus gach buidheann is neach a tha ag obair airson Gàidhlig a dhèanamh nas làidir. Tha fhios agam gu bheil iad uile ag obair gu cruaidh airson a’ chànain.

Chan eil mi fileanta sa Ghàidhlig, ach tha mi ag ionnsachadh barrachd gach latha. Tha mo nighean fileanta agus bidh an dithis dheugairean aice ga bruidhinn cuideachd. Tha ban-ogha agam na sgoilear aig Àrd-sgoil Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu agus bidh mac mo mhic ag ionnsachadh aig an sgoil-àraich ann an Dùn Èideann. Tha tòrr teaghlaichean mar seo anns an latha an-duigh is bu chòir dhuinn uile a bhith a’ faireachdainn dòchasach mun àm ri teachd.

Nuair a bha mi nam bhall-comhairle ann an Inbhir Nis, bha a’ bhun-sgoil Ghàidhlig anns an sgìre agam. Sin a’ chiad sgoil a bha air an togail gu sònraichte airson a bhith na sgoil Ghàidhlig. An-duigh, tha a’ bhun-sgoil gus a bhith làn—naidheachd glè mhath. A bharrachd air seo, tha mi glè thoilichte gu bheil Sabhal Mòr Ostaig cho soirbheachail. Tha e air tòrr oileanaich a tharraing bho iomadh duthaich dhan Eilean Sgitheanach, far a bheil an ath-bheothachadh seo air iomadh buannachd a thoirt dhan sgìre.

Mar a tha an gluasad ag ràdh, tha an sgeulachd de Gàidhlig air a bhith fìor shoirbheachail—cho soirbheachail gu bheil e a’ togail £150 millean not. Chaidh ceudan de bliadhnaichean seachad agus cha robh cothrom aig a’ chànan a bhith a’ fàs. Ach an-duigh tha an cultar againn beò is soirbheachail, tha an ceòl àlainn is tha na seinneadairean tàlantach againn ainmeil air feadh an t-saoghail.

Ged a bheil seo fìor, chan eil a h-uile rud math. Feumaidh sinn barrachd obair a dhèanamh air rudan mar na h-àireamhean de cuspairean a th’ ann an àrd-sgoiltean. Ach tha fios aig a’ mhinistear gu bheil trioblaid le sin ann an sgoiltean Beurla cuideachd. Feumaidh sinn obair ann an dòigh shùbailte—a’ cleachdadh teicneòlas agus ag obair ri chèile—airson dèanabh cinnteach gu bheil cothroman sgoinneil aig a’ chloinn againn. Ma tha sinn a’ coimhead air ais 10 bliadhna, tha e furasda fhaicinn gu bheil rudan nas fheàrr, ach tha tòrr ri dhèanamh fhathast a thaobh nan cothroman a th’ ann airson luchd-ionnsachaidh a tha air an sgoil fhàgail cuideachd.

Tha mi ag iarraidh rudeigin a chantainn mu dheidhinn cànan eile a-nis: Scots. Tha mi airson faicinn an uiread de adhartas is urram a tha an cànan Gàidhlig a’ faighinn airson a’ chànain Scots cuideachd. Tha e ceart gur e nàisean ùr, nuadh a th’ ann an Alba, ach bu chòir dhuinn urram a toirt do ar n-eachdraidh.

Tha mi glè thoilichte beagan Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn nar Pàrlamaid a-rithist. Feumaidh sinn cleachdadh na Gàidhlg—ciamar a chanas mi “normalise”?—anns a’ Phàrlamaid.

 

Following is the simultaneous interpretation:

 

I congratulate Angus MacDonald on his work and on the motion, which is very important. I also congratulate Bòrd na Gàidhlig and all the other Gaelic organisations and Gaelic workers on all their work. I know that they are all very busy working for the language.

I am not a native Gaelic speaker, but I am learning every day. My daughter is fluent, and my two teenage granddaughters are fluent, as well. I have a granddaughter at Glasgow high school and a grandson who goes to the Gaelic nursery in Edinburgh. Many more families are now like that. We must all feel positive about the years ahead.

When I was a councillor in Inverness, Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis was in my ward; it was Scotland’s first purpose-built Gaelic school. It is bigger now and we need more places because our schools are very busy, which is good news. Likewise, I am pleased that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has many students from many countries and is an international success. SMO is on Skye, and the surrounding area of the south of Skye has flourished because of the Gaelic language.

As the motion says, Gaelic is an economic success—a near-£150 million success. For centuries our culture was not allowed to flourish, but now, because of our beautiful Gaelic music and our many great singers, Gaelic is known and loved in many countries.

Not everything is good. Some things, like the number of subjects that are taught at our Gaelic high schools, could be better. However, as the minister knows, that also applies to English language schools. We must use flexibility and technology to get the number of pupils who are needed for any class, whether in Gaelic or English, to be a success. Opportunities for adult learners could be better, too. However, if we look over the past 10 years there has been progress and much good work has been done.

I want to say something about another language: Scots. I want to see the respect that is now given to Gaelic being given to Scots, as well. Scotland is a modern nation that must respect its past and its history.

I am happy to be able to speak a little in Gaelic in our nation’s Parliament again. We must be able to normalise speaking the Gaelic language in the Parliament.

Congratulations to Daviot Primary’s prizewinning young engineers

Daviot Primary School logoFour young engineers from the 11-pupil Daviot Primary School near Inverness have beaten 200 other schools to win the 2015 Junior Saltire Prize by designing and building a floating device to harvest energy from the waves.

Team Daviot have form in the competition, as they also took home second place in last year’s Junior Saltire.

The Highlanders claimed the 2015 medal with a device consisting of a plastic box weighed down with lead and containing a pendulum that is swung by the motion of the waves, powering a dynamo to generate electricity.

John Finnie has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament to recognise the Daviot team’s achievement:

Motion S4M-13408:John Finnie, Highlands and Islands, Independent

Daviot Primary School Success at 2015 Junior Saltire Award

That the Parliament congratulates the pupils of Daviot Primary School on their success in the 2015 Junior Saltire Award; understands that the primary 6 and 7 pupils from the 11-pupil school won the award for designing their own floating wave energy device, which was tested by the University of Edinburgh’s FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility; notes that the school came second in the 2014 Junior Saltire Award, and believes that, for a small rural school, reaching the final twice in two years is a huge testament to the work of the staff and the pupils.

John said:

“For any school, reaching the final of a tough competition like the Junior Saltire twice in a row would be a huge achievement. It’s even more impressive for a small rural school. I hope the pupils and staff are thoroughly proud of themselves – I know I’m proud of them!

“Scotland boasts half of the European Union’s entire marine energy potential, so our sea is the key to the clean energy and skilled jobs of the future. With Scotland producing brilliant young engineers like the pupils of Daviot, it looks like our energy future will be in safe hands.”

The Junior Saltire Prize is the young people’s version of the Saltire Prize, a £10million Scottish Government competition to accelerate the development of wave and tidal energy technology.

John urges council chiefs to invest pension funds in affordable homes

John Finnie speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John speaking at an Edinburgh University building occupied by students in protest at fossil fuel investments
John Finnie has written to the Chief Executives of the six Highlands and Islands local authorities, urging them to follow the lead of Falkirk Council by investing a portion of their pension funds in building social and affordable housing.

John has also lodged a Parliamentary Question asking that the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Fund – the pension fund for MSPs – follow Falkirk Council’s example.

Falkirk’s Local Government Pension Scheme Fund has invested £30 million in the Housing Fund for Scotland, managed by Hearthstone Investments. The Falkirk investment is expected to fund the construction of over 300 affordable homes, and the Fund aims to raise a total of £150 million and build over 1,000 new homes.

John has been campaigning to divest public sector pension funds from destructive industries like fossil fuels, weapons and tobacco, and encourage socially useful investments like affordable housing and renewable energy. He has criticised the trustees of the MSPs’ Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme for refusing to take action on unethical investments, and recently supported Edinburgh University students in their protest against the university’s investments in fossil fuels.

John said:

“Public authorities invest billions of pounds in pension funds, and that money could and should be helping to fund the investment we need in everything from affordable homes to clean energy. Our pension funds can do good for society as well as growing strongly to provide for our retirement.

“The dedicated public servants who pay into council pensions aren’t just numbers on a screen. They’re real people who need homes, schools, hospitals, a healthy environment and jobs for their families. It makes no sense to invest their money in things which undermine those needs when it could be helping to fulfil them.

“I believe most people – especially people who have chosen a career in public service – don’t want to be bankrolling oil companies, the arms industry and Big Tobacco. Falkirk’s investment proves there are alternatives; I hope other councils and the Scottish Parliament are paying attention.”

John’s letters to the Chief Executives of Highlands Council, Argyll & Bute Council, Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar read:

Dear Chief Executive

Can I commend to you the approach taken by Falkirk Council which has invested £30M of its pension fund into Hearthstone Investments Housing Fund for Scotland. The Housing Fund for Scotland will help provide for more affordable housing across Scotland.

I believe that such investments which aim to provide a real community benefit ought to make up an increasing share of our public pensions, encouraging moves away from the investments such as tobacco and fossil fuels which damage our health and our environment and the arms which causes so much devastation in communities abroad.

I would be grateful if you would examine the example of Falkirk and consider investing the some of the Council’s Pension Fund in a similar manner.

Kind regards,

John Finnie MSP

John Demands Action On Sixth Year Students’ Concerns

John has written to the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and the Head of Children’s Services and Resources at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to step in and resolve the reported dissatisfaction of the sixth year pupils.

It was reported that this week the entire sixth year at Sgoil Lionacleit on Benbecula requested leaver’s forms from the school. This was in response to the issues regarding the availability and timetabling of their subjects. The pupils who are in their last year of High School are concerned that the choice of available courses will hamper their prospects for University and College places.

Commenting John said:

“I am deeply concerned to hear that the entire sixth year requested a leaver’s form from the school authorities, something that I have not heard having happened at any other school. The pupils actions speak loudly and clearly that they feel this situation regarding the courses must be tackled. This is not just a few pupils, but almost an entire year.

“I have written to both the Scottish Government and the Comhairle to implore them to take action to resolve this situation to the satisfaction of both the pupils and their parents.

“I believe that increasingly collaborative working across schools, and indeed across local authorities, utilising information technology must form a part of the way forward to provide a as wide as possible choice for our pupils to prepare themselves for university, college and the working world.

“Creative ways must be used to ensure the necessary cohort of pupils can be assembled to make subjects viable.  It’s a system that works through the collegiate network of the University of Highlands and Islands and there is no reason, given a willingness, that it can’t work for the many schools with relatively small numbers across the Highlands and Islands.

“It’s vital that we maintain all our local schools and not allow a ‘we’ve always done it that way’ approach to hamper children’s prospects.”