John Comments on Increased Food Thefts in Highlands

Commenting on the statement by Ch. Supt Julian Innes that the police believed the rise in shoplifting in the Highlands and Islands was as a result of people struggling to feed themselves.

John said:

“The police service works in our communities. They understand our communities.

“When we have a senior figure like Chief Superintendent Julian Innes, who is well respected, laying out very, very clearly that people are stealing foodstuffs to sustain their living, then that’s a shocking state of affairs. I do not believe that Ch. Supt Innes would have said what he did without serious evidence to the case.

“Of course there have always been thefts, and no-one is condoning theft for one second, but in the past it has been thefts of luxury items. These thefts are obviously not luxuries , they are for the basics.

“These are obviously people who are hard pressed, people who are in dire straits.  We have heard of cases from across the UK of those who have had benefits sanctioned needing to resort to theft in order to eat. That it may now be happening in the Highlands and Islands is utterly depressing. The UK Government cannot continue to turn a blind eye to stories of such desperation. I am writing to the UK Government urging them to tackle such desperation.”

John’s Speech on New Psychoactive Substances

Yesterday (29th September 2015) John spoke in the Scottish Government’s debate on New Psychoactive Substances. John spoke highlighting his role as the Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Drugs and as a member of the Scottish Government convened New Psychoactive Substances Cross Party Working Group, which includes the Scottish Government, Police, health experts, legal experts and politicians.

Prior to the debate John, on behalf of the Green/Independent Group, attempted to amend the Scottish Government’s debate motion. Unfortunately John’s amendment was not selected. However you can read John’s amendment and the Scottish Government’s motion below:

*S4M-14403 Paul Wheelhouse: Progress on Implementing Recommendations of the Expert Review Group in New Psychoactive Substances—That the Parliament welcomes the progress being made to respond to the New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Expert Review Group report recommendations, published on 26 February 2015, including work to bring NPS under legal control; notes that the UK Government published the Psychoactive Substances Bill on 29 May 2015, which the Scottish Government supports, and further notes that this work includes engagement with the sector on information sharing and a common definition, including on the development of forensic capacity, and production of guidance that will be a vital tool for trading standards staff on the frontline, given the serious impact that these substances are having in communities, sometimes with fatal consequences, and the challenges faced by drug treatment and health services and enforcement agencies.

Supported by: Michael Matheson*

*S4M-14403.3 John Finnie: Progress on Implementing Recommendations of the Expert Review Group in New Psychoactive Substances—As an amendment to motion S4M-14403 in the name of Paul Wheelhouse (Progress on Implementing Recommendations of the Expert Review Group in New Psychoactive Substances), insert at end ―, and recognises that, while there can be a role for enforcement, harm reduction is best achieved by education, which allows for informed choices‖.


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

I have very much enjoyed the debate and I thank the minister for bringing it to the chamber and for opening it. I wonder what the purpose of the debate is. Is it to highlight to the public a problem that they are aware of? Is it to talk up a problem? Is it to address concerns that are widely held? Is it to contribute to harm reduction?

The motion talks about progress, which of course we all welcome, as it is important. Like a number of colleagues, I am pleased to be part of the ministerial cross-party group that is looking at NPS. No harm ever comes from discussing things and I think that we have had a lot of informed discussion thus far.

The motion talks about: “engagement with the sector on information sharing”.

I am grateful to the minister for taking my intervention on education, which is key to this. I do not want to give the impression that my view that there is an overemphasis on enforcement is the result of anything other than my understanding of how we will best get over the message that people need to make informed decisions. For instance, the motion talks about the “serious impact” of the substances. Is it a serious impact? Serious compared with what? There are other comparators, and alcohol is the most obvious one. We have heard about tragic events in A and E, but those events were relatively rare, whereas we know that the use of alcohol and the mayhem that that creates in the streets of our towns and villages, in dwelling houses and in A and E have been an on-going problem.

Like others, I very much enjoyed Dr Richard Simpson’s speech, which was very informed. He talked about human nature and what it causes us to do. He talked about new approaches and about the role of social media. Importantly, he said that people will continue to use. That is the reality.

At the risk of offending my former colleague in another sphere, Mr Pearson, we could argue that drug enforcement has not led to a positive outcome in terms of cost benefit analysis. If the idea was that all that effort would reduce the availability of drugs, that has not been the case. Of course, this is outwith the realm—in some respects—of the enforcement that has taken place.

Graeme Pearson:

I cannot let that remark go unchallenged. My colleague should consider that, in other realms of drug abuse, the so-called tenner bag that is recognised across Scotland had at one time a purity level of more than 40 per cent and now is lucky if it can achieve 10 per cent purity levels, because the supply of drugs into the country has been choked.

It is not simply a matter of enforcement; it is the proper use of all the tactics that are available to us that gives the opportunity for communities to respond better than might otherwise be the case. I am grateful to my colleague for allowing me the time to say that.

John Finnie:

Mr Pearson makes an important point, which is that enforcement has a role as part of the whole. I would like the emphasis to be on education.

The Scottish Drugs Forum welcomed the Home Office review and said:

“One of the key issues limiting a Scottish response to NPS is the unknown prevalence of such substances, with much of the data coming from anecdotal information.”

That largely remains the case. As we heard from the expert from A and E, a considerable amount of guesswork goes on.

I will quote something else that the SDF said about the review. Its director, David Liddell, said:

“It is crucial that the review does not solely focus on supply, but also looks at why people are using these new substances and the impact they have on individuals.”

It is important that we do that.

We know that the review considered the internet and of course the internet is there. It can be beneficial, although many people talk it down, but it provides many of the challenges that we have.

The Queen’s speech talked about the new bill creating an offence in regard to

“any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect.”

We have had a lot of discussion about that, because that may sound definitive, but it is far from clear.

I commend one aspect of the bill, which is its inclusion of provisions for civil sanctions such as prohibition notices and premises notices, two breaches of which will be a criminal offence. Their aim is to enable the police and local authorities to adopt a graded response to supply. It is important that a proportionate response is taken.

In the minister’s letter of June this year, he said that NPS

“are therefore potentially every bit as dangerous as illicit drugs”—

no one would argue with that—

“and have been implicated in a small, but growing number of deaths.”

We heard from Mr Pearson about polydrug use. We should look at the statistics, because I do not want people to blow things completely out of proportion. Alcohol is present in the vast majority of drug-related deaths.

The minister talked about Crew 2000, which has been on the go since 1992 and was formed in response to the rapid expansion of recreational drug use.

Kevin Stewart talked about language, which is important. I understand the frustration at the use of the term “legal highs”. We have in the chamber discussed a similarly sensitive matter: female genital mutilation. The connection is that, to a lot of people, including the victims, the term “female genital mutilation” means nothing. It is right that we should not infer that “legal” means “safe”—I do not infer that anyway; it is legal to climb mountains, but it is not always safe to do so. However, it is important that we communicate with people at the level that they understand. The minister talked about peers, and I say with the greatest respect to my colleagues that people will listen not to us but to the Scottish Youth Parliament and the fine folk at the Scottish Drugs Forum and Crew 2000.

Crew 2000 says that it is underresourced and underfunded, as we have heard from Sarah Boyack and others. It also says:

“Better education is essential so citizens are well informed and can assess risk. The information provided by Government has been minimal, leaving those who take NPS to guess for themselves.”

I have seen that phrase elsewhere. If we are going to say, “Don’t do it,” maybe we need to say why people should not do it.

Crew 2000 says:

“The least harmful substances, such as nitrous oxide, should be exempt.”

I did not know what nitrous oxide was; apparently, it is laughing gas. Proportionality is needed. If the bill is passed, we need to look at what its aftereffects will be.

Crew 2000 recommends something that I have not seen recommended elsewhere, which is

“a UK wide NPS amnesty”.

That would reduce the possibility of redistribution.

The consequences of a ban are not as straightforward as we might imagine. People who return to opiates from non-opiate NPS will have a reduced tolerance and therefore an increased overdose risk. Mental health problems may be exacerbated when people choose to self-medicate. Again, we will drive people who wish to continue using drugs back to dealing with people who are, after all, criminals.

I commend Sarah Boyack’s comments on the use of local initiatives, which are important.

We must deal with facts. We must deal with the internet and we must work collaboratively to reduce harm and bring about informed decision making.”

You can read a full transcript of the debate here:


John’s Debate on Delivery Surcharges to Highlands & Islands

On Thursday  (24th September) John led a Member’s Debate on Citizens Advice Scotland’s report into delivery surcharges to the Highlands and Islands. You can read the motion, John’s speech and the reply from the Minister for the Islands below.

You can read Citizens Advice Scotland’s report:

Motion debated: That the Parliament welcomes the publication of Citizens Advice Scotland’s report, The Postcode Penalty: The Distance Travelled; notes with concern the continuing problems highlighted in the report relating to the delivery of online shopping to people in the Highlands and Islands; understands that, while fewer online retailers now impose a surcharge for delivery, those who do have increased these charges by 17.6% for customers in the Highlands and 15.8% for island residents since 2012; welcomes the report’s recommendations, including extending the road equivalent tariff to cover delivery vehicles on ferries and the proposal to encourage delivery to ferries in partnership with CalMac, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to continue to work with Citizens Advice Scotland, trading standards services, the online retail industry and enterprise bodies to support innovation in the interests of consumers.


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

“I thank the members who signed the motion and I congratulate Citizens Advice Scotland on its fine report, “The Postcode Penalty: The Distance Travelled—Progress on parcel deliveries in Scotland 2012-2015”. The report’s authors are David Moyes and Kate Morrison. The report is the most recent in a long-running campaign, which started in 2010 and involved Skye & Lochalsh Citizens Advice Bureau. There was a further report in 2012 from Sarah Beattie-Smith, whom many members know.

The problem of high delivery surcharges for consumers in remote and rural areas has not gone away. Businesses are affected, too: some 15,000 businesses in remote and rural areas are at a competitive disadvantage because of the problem, as well as being disadvantaged by geography, connectivity issues and fuel costs.

The CAS report says that the problems continue to impact on the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Indeed, it seems that the Highlands and Islands extend as far south as Stonehaven, Perth and Helensburgh. Wonderful locations though they are, they are in neither the Gàidhealtachd nor the northern isles, so there seems to be a lack of geographical knowledge in that regard. Perhaps it has something to do with postcodes.

Some things are better than they were three years ago, but we started from a very low threshold and, as the report says, high delivery cost

“is a problem that is getting more pronounced.”

Almost 50 per cent of retailers were applying surcharges in 2012; that is now down to 44 per cent. As ever, the islands are disproportionately impacted, with 62 per cent of retailers surcharging in 2012 and 53 per cent surcharging now. The percentages might have gone down, but customers who are surcharged are paying more, despite average delivery charges remaining static and falling in real terms. Highlands and Islands customers are paying roughly four times as much for delivery.

Overall, the position is slightly better than it was, but it remains disappointing. The report tells us what we all know, which is that the United Kingdom online shopping market is one of the most developed in the world, accounting for 15 per cent of total retail sales. That is important, because the market gives people in remote and rural areas the same levels of choice of goods as people in population centres enjoy. However, people in remote and rural areas are often excluded from a range of delivery options and face higher delivery charges to such an extent that online shopping is uneconomical for them.

Rural living presents many challenges. The report mentions research that indicated that

“rural household budgets need to be 10-40% higher in order to achieve a minimum acceptable living standard.”

Legislative compliance is all the more important against such a punitive background. More than a third of internet sites give customers less than the statutory notice period in which to return items, and some retailers have failed to update their terms and conditions to include the consumer contracts regulations. Robust enforcement is required.

Members might be aware of the “Statement of principles for parcel deliveries”. That is a grand title. The statement came into effect in 2014 and should have had a positive effect. However, only four of the 449 businesses that were surveyed for the CAS report knew about it, which is shocking. That is simply not good enough.

The challenge is not just for domestic customers. We want to encourage everyone to use their local businesses, which also face delivery problems and must pass on additional charges.

Citizens Advice Scotland not only highlighted problems but suggested solutions. In the limited time that I have, I will focus on some of those solutions, and I hope that the Minister for Transport and Islands will be able to respond to them. CAS recommends that the Scottish Government considers extending to vehicles that are more than 6m in length the road equivalent tariff fare structure in order to help to reduce the cost of delivering goods to islands. I appreciate the complexity around that, but as we heard in the report,

“I am as cheap to buy a [ferry] ticket and drive as R.E.T. is cheaper than using a carrier”.

That came from a Western Isles business owner.

There are opportunities focused around the “final mile consolidation”, as it is referred to.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD):

“John Finnie referred to an extension to the road equivalent tariff. It will not surprise him that those of us who represent islands that do not benefit from the road equivalent tariff would argue strongly for such an extension to benefit smaller businesses in Orkney and Shetland. Does he agree?

John Finnie:

“I agree absolutely, because I also represent the Orkney Islands. That is why I said that I appreciate the complexity of the situation and its financial implications.

We know from the report and the research that islands are more willing to engage in delivery solutions. That could mean collection from the local post office, which could have the knock-on effect of adding to sustainability, as could delivery to ferries and collection from island-side ferry ports. We are in the unique position of having Caledonian MacBrayne, so I hope that the minister will take the issues on board. There will always be challenges and the competitiveness of delivery costs and speed will be part of that.

The report also recommends that the

“Scottish Government considers how the public sector can work with the industry to encourage final mile consolidation in order to reduce delivery costs for Scottish rural consumers.”

Again, it would be helpful to get some feedback on that.

The report uses the term “logistical innovation”, which would give the opportunity to benefit a range of people.

In the short time that is left to me, I will comment on Royal Mail and the suggestion that there is the option of extending or enhancing the universal service obligation, and that it could cover new products. The report says:

“The growing importance of parcel deliveries to businesses and consumers adds another reason to value and preserve the universal service.”

That is important because of the downturn and changes in the level of use of letters.

CAS is doing a lot of good work, including collaborating at United Kingdom level, and I recommend that the minister pick that up. Aspects of the subject are reserved, but the minister has the opportunity to engage on the issues, not least on extending the definition of universal service obligation to cover more of the parcels market. I would appreciate it if the minister could pick up on the Scottish Government elements of that and confirm that he would be willing to work with the UK Government on the other matters.

The report is excellent and well-evidenced, and we all want to support the innovation that it outlines. It presents opportunities for retailers and customers and, if we do this right, for the planet.”

Reply from the Minister for Transport and Islands (Derek Mackay):

I, too, congratulate John Finnie on securing this debate. My colleague Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, has taken a close interest in this issue for many years and he is disappointed that he cannot be here for this debate. He, of course, would have taken the lead on this issue, but as minister with responsibility for islands and transport issues, I, too, have a clear interest in the matter.

Over the summer, I visited a number of islands and heard about the challenges facing island living, of which this issue is one. There are actions that the Scottish Government and, indeed, the UK Government can take. I agreed with a lot of what Lewis Macdonald said, but I found his unnecessary and ill-informed scaremongering on the ferry contract most unhelpful and inaccurate.

Lewis Macdonald:

Will the minister give way?

Derek Mackay:

Well, I think that you reap what you sow. I should not take an intervention, but I am such a kind character that I will of course do so from Mr Macdonald.

Lewis Macdonald:

I am glad to have allowed the minister to rediscover his generous side and very much appreciate his taking my intervention.

Whatever the minister’s view of the process that he is about to undertake in relation to CalMac, does he recognise my point that people in the islands are very anxious about the prospect of a private company taking over a successful public service? The point is absolutely real. It is not something that I have made up; it is something that people in the islands will have told him, had he been listening.

Derek Mackay:

I have been listening very closely to what islanders have been saying about ferry services and, to be frank, a lot of the anxiety is being caused by the Labour Party perpetrating untruths about the current process.

Lewis Macdonald also said that we should simply keep the contract within the current framework. However, he knows that doing so would be a breach of European regulations and would put the ferry services into some doubt, as we would be in conflict with regulations and subject to all sorts of challenges. We will comply with the law and get the best possible deal.

I will now do the reassurance bit for the islanders. Whatever the outcome of the procurement exercise for the Clyde and Hebrides ferry contract, the timetables will be set by Government, the vessels will be owned by the public sector and the fares will be set by the Scottish Government, through the operator. Of course, one challenge for potential operators is how they can consider the needs of island communities and respond to the suggestions that have been made in this chamber this afternoon around how they can further use the infrastructure, the hubs and the transport connections to give those communities further support on the transport side. There is an opportunity here, but there is no risk to services, as was suggested by Lewis Macdonald.

I am particularly interested in the legislative aspect of being able to choose the provider—that is, to choose Royal Mail. That is a very helpful suggestion. No matter what the Scottish Government can do in terms of ferries, routes, timetables, hubs or anything else, ensuring people’s rights through legislation would address a number of the issues that would be more difficult to address through perceptions or other interventions.

I commend Citizens Advice Scotland for drawing attention to this issue, for its work and for sharing with us its case studies and the evidence that it has produced. I can assure all members that that will inform future transport and island policy, as well as the business agenda.

In 2012 and 2013, Fergus Ewing chaired parcel delivery summits that led to the statement of principles, which I fully accept has not been adopted by as many people as we would have liked it to be. Again, if that statement were placed on a statutory footing—that could be done only at Westminster, not here—we would welcome that. I saw that the minister, Nick Boles, said that he does not want to go to primary legislation or even regulation, but that might be the best thing to do. I understand that he visited Colonsay during his summer holidays. I was also on Colonsay in the summer, although not at the same time. I know that he heard from islanders about their specific needs when he went there.

I raise that as an example because one of the interventions that I have made as transport minister is to consult on improved timetables. Why does that help? Because that might allow a better turnaround for deliveries to and from the islands, which might make it easier for carriers to get products and vehicles—because sometimes the issue is to do with vehicles being stuck on the islands—on and off the islands.

John Finnie:

There might be more beneficial mechanisms than putting more vehicles on the islands, which might be challenging in a competitive marketplace. Will the minister agree to play a facilitating role in the consideration of those options?

Derek Mackay:

Yes, I am happy to get Transport Scotland to consider the issues around collection hubs, transport hubs and so on. That is a helpful suggestion and I will commit to my officials undertaking that work in partnership with other stakeholders. Further, through community planning, it is important to encourage a focus on a sense of place and what more transport can do to help with this and every aspect of island living. I will also commit to listening to the comments of the rural parliament and the rural network. Like other members, I recognise that this is not only an island issue, although it is of importance to the islands.

Christine Grahame:

It is an issue in the Borders.

Derek Mackay:

Indeed—it is an issue across the mainland, including the Borders.

Work will also be taken with Citizens Advice Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to consider a range of models that might be deployed and replicated across the country.

There is a record amount of funding for lifeline ferry services. In this financial year, more than £145 million has been committed to support them. We have expanded the road equivalent tariff scheme across the Clyde and Hebrides network—that will be completed next month.

When commercial vehicles were eligible for RET, there was evidence that that reduction was not passed on to the customer. That has to be ensured before we can even consider using the scheme in that way. In 2012, we were able to allow commercial vehicles under 6m in length to qualify for RET. That means that post vans and smaller courier vehicles will get the discount, which means that they will pay less than the current commercial fares. Of course, the issue is about affordability and the need to ensure that those who are intended to benefit are the ones who benefit. That is why I am considering the current freight policy, too. I will report on that later this year.

That range of transport actions represents what the Scottish Government is doing. Like others, I again call on the UK Government to take action. Lewis Macdonald talked about a cosy chat with ministers but—who knows?—it might lead to further regulation and legislation. However, the principles should apply, so that we can have better universality of charges and do not discriminate against areas of peripherality, rurality or island living. I again call on the UK Government to act in that spirit.”


You can read the full debate here:



John’s ethical investment campaign – the story so far

“There can hardly be a more nakedly selfish act than profiting off of the human suffering of climate change.”

— John Finnie MSP

John has been campaigning to get pension schemes and other investments – including the Scottish Parliament’s own pension fund – to divest from harmful industries like fossil fuels, tobacco and the arms trade, and invest instead in socially useful activities like developing clean energy.

We’ve created a new page on the website so you can keep track of the campaign as it develops. To see read the story so far, and see what you can do to help stop MSPs cash bankrolling climate change, visit the Ethical Investment Campaign page now.

John presses for answers on seizure of Sea Shepherd boat

Sea Shepherd boats seized since Sept 2014John Finnie is investigating the way the Scottish authorities seek and carry out court warrants to confiscate property on behalf of foreign governments, after a boat belonging to the conservation organisation Sea Shepherd was seized by police and handed over to the Danish Navy.

Sea Shepherd, like Greenpeace, use ships and boats to take to investigate and take direct action to prevent the slaughter of whales and dolphins. The rigid inflatable boat Echo that was seized by police on Tuesday 1 September belonged to the Sea Shepherd ship MY Sam Simon, which was refuelling in Lerwick harbour as part of their campaign against the “grind” in the Faeroe Islands, where pilot whales are herded onto a beach to be killed with knives. The grinds kill around 800 pilot whales per year.

In response to a letter from the Faroese chief of police, the Crown Office sought and was granted a warrant to seize the Echo. On Friday 4 September, police told Sea Shepherd’s lawyers that the boat would be held in Scotland for a week, allowing time for an appeal. Sea Shepherd did appeal and the High Court suspended the warrant at 3.43pm on Friday afternoon, but contrary to the police’s assurances, the boat was already on board the Danish Navy warship HMDS Knud Rasmussen on its way to the Faroes, having been handed over less than an hour before.

John raised the issue at last week’s First Minister’s Questions, asking:

What assessment will be made of procedures that were employed in relation to the seizure and non-return of a Sea Shepherd UK boat from Lerwick harbour?

Nicola Sturgeon replied:

Obviously, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in detail on the matter because it is under criminal investigation. The Crown Office received a letter of request from the Faroese authorities and subsequently sought a warrant in the matter, which was then executed, on the basis of allegations of criminal activity. Given the circumstances, it is not appropriate for me to say any more on the issue.

John then pursued the issue with the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, who heads the Crown Office, with two letters.

In his first letter, John asked about how exactly another country goes about seeking a seizure of property, in the way Denmark (which controls Faeroe and is responsible for policing and justice on the islands) did over the Echo. Given that once the boat was in the possession of Denmark there seemed to be no way to get it back, he asked what timeframe there is to ensure the opportunity for an appeal. Finally he asked about whether the Crown Office’s response takes account of whether the property was being used to prevent acts which would be illegal in Scotland, as the Faroese whale hunt certainly would.

In a second letter, sent today, John has asked about the Crown Office’s actions when they are aware that the court is considering an appeal to suspend a warrant, and when they learn that a suspension has been granted. In the Lerwick case, police handed the Sea Shepherd boat over to the Danish Navy even though the Crown Office knew that a decision on suspending the warrant to do so was imminent, and once the warrant was granted there doesn’t seem to have been any attempt by the Scottish authorities to return the Echo to its owners.

John is still waiting for a response to his questions to the Lord Advocate. In the meantime, pilot whale grinds continue in the Faroes, and Sea Shepherd’s Captain Alex Cornelissen says “if the Danish government thinks that by confiscating the Echo they will stop Sea Shepherd, they are very sadly mistaken.” If you’d like to support Sea Shepherd’s work in the Faroes, you can donate here.

John’s Speech on the Scottish Government’s Programme

Yesterday (02/09/2015) John spoke to the Scottish Government’s published Programme for Government available here (, you can read John’s response below.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):

There is much to be commended in the Government’s programme for the coming year, not least with regard to workers’ rights. I very much welcome the abolition of employment tribunal fees. The imposition of those fees had the desired effect, as we have heard, with a 70 per cent reduction in cases. I agree with the First Minister that that was a very positive early use of the powers.

Similarly, I welcome the reduced threshold in relation to the duty to publish information on the gender pay gap. I commend the fact that the Scottish Government supports the 50:50 by 2020 campaign, but that must apply across the public sector. Only yesterday I raised that issue in the Justice Committee with regard to the composition of the Scottish sentencing council.

I commend collaborative work across the chamber, within and outwith the chamber, and the fair work convention is an example of that.

Also mentioned in the programme for government is developing the young workforce, and the issue of a per head payment for training rather than a payment to providers that reflects the costs incurred must be looked at again.

The use of language is very important and I commend the use of the word “partners” rather than “opponents”. We see an opportunity for unity in a large section of the chamber around the issues of the trade union bill and the lobbying bill. I welcome the Labour Party’s positive approach to that.

Many members in the chamber—including me—have been involved to a small extent in the private tenancies living rent campaign. That is a significant issue across the country, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.

I welcome the abolition of the bedroom tax and I am delighted that the Scottish Government included in the programme for government the comment that

“greater equality is good for economic growth”.—[Official Report, 1 September 2015; c 16.]

That is the case.

The rural housing fund is to be commended but, of course, that is not without its challenges too, because access to land to build those very houses is a challenge. I took the opportunity to stop and speak, outwith the Parliament this morning, to the our land campaign. The campaign has sent all members a list of what I think are very modest and reasonable requests for us to follow. It asks us to:

“1. Reinstate the requirement for all land-owning entities (like companies) to be registered in a member state of the EU.”

I will not go through the full list but I will go to the fourth request, which says:

“4. Acknowledge that this Land Reform Bill won’t solve the problem of unaffordable and unavailable land in Scotland and prepare to adopt further measures in the next parliament to tackle land taxation, lack of information about land ownership, derelict and vacant land, absentee landlordism and the exorbitant cost of land for housing.”

I hope that in future we will see some unity about that.

The planning review is welcome, but it is not just about having a review for the sake of it. I am interested to know what consequences there could be for the Gypsy Traveller community, for instance, who have long been neglected in the process, and whether there will be issues about their tenancy, which we have been assured will be addressed. Similarly, will the investment of £60 million in primary care enhance life expectancy, which is already much lower for the Gypsy Traveller community? I hope so, but the evidence for that remains to be seen.

The First Minister stated:

“The success of our economy is essential to all our aims”

and the aspiration is

“to become the real northern powerhouse … We will do that not by a race to the bottom … We will continue to support our oil and gas industry.”—[Official Report, 1 September 2015; c 13-14.]

It is certainly the view of members in this area of the chamber that the way in which we would support that industry is through a just transition to a low-carbon economy. I commend the “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy” report by Mika Minio-Paluello. That outlines the fact that we have 470 platforms in the North Sea, 10,000km of pipelines and 5,000 wells that will need to be decommissioned over the next 30 years. It also states:

“Costs over the next decade are estimated at £14.6 billion”.

That is not an estimate by the Scottish Green Party; it is an estimate by Oil & Gas UK, with those costs rising to £40 billion by 2040.

This year, Shell’s enormous Brent Delta platform has been partially dismantled and shipped to Teesside, and 97 per cent of it will be recycled. It would take 12 years to dismantle the entire Brent oil field, and that alone would require 1,000 offshore workers.

There is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to position Aberdeen as a global centre of decommissioning skills. That could be linked to the failed climate change targets. I acknowledge the baseline change and the UK Government’s cynical policy shift, but adopting the same approach will not change things.

Air passenger duty is an aspect of that. We heard how Stuart McMillan is looking forward to the increasing flow of people being involved in recreational sailing. I, too, would welcome that. However, I hope that they would sail or take the train here. If the air travel costs are reduced, there will be a modal shift.

Stuart McMillan:

My point was that a third of the people who berth in Scotland live in the south-east of England. Some may want to travel by train; others may want to fly.

John Finnie:

I commend the existing excellent cross-border rail services. I hope that the member would commend them, too.

The programme for government mentions investment hubs. I would have liked to see it include reference to goods rail hubs. A city the size of Dundee does not have a goods rail hub. If Invergordon had a hub, there would be a clear linkage with decommissioning goods. In response to a parliamentary question, I was told that the issue is not a Government matter. Of course it is a Government matter. We must work together.

There is a lot to commend in the programme, but there is no mention of Gaelic and no mention of drugs. I would add that the money that has had to be allocated to mitigate the UK Government’s welfare reforms could be much better spent



John welcomes campaign win on rent controls

John Finnie backs Living Rent Campaign, holding placard reading "It's time for rent controls".

Presenting her Programme for Government at Holyrood yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government would bring in new laws to allow local rent controls in “rent pressure” areas. John has welcomed the announcement, which is a big early victory for the Living Rent Campaign, of which he was one of the first MSP supporters.

The rent control measures will be included in a Private Tenancies Bill, which will also provide opportunities to make other improvements to the security, affordability and quality of housing in the private rented sector.

John said:

“I very much welcome the fact that the Scottish Government will join the growing voices across Scotland in calling for rent controls. I await the detail of what exactly how these new controls will be implemented. An opinion poll found that 60% of the population supported some form of rent controls, let us hope that the final proposals will not disappoint them.”

“That the Scottish Government is willing to implement some form of rent control is testament to the strong campaign ran by the Living Rent Campaign, amongst others. The issue of high rents is not merely an issue for the central belt and urban areas. Across the Highlands average rents are higher than the Scottish average and rising fast than anywhere else except Glasgow. It is vital that we have truly ‘local’ rent controls to tackle local rent problems.

“Rent controls are of course by no means a silver bullet to tackle the issues facing the Highlands, and Scotland, but they are a vital step in bringing about fairer housing.”

You can read more in John’s article for the Living Rent Campaign, The Highlands and Islands need rent controls.