TTIP: GREEN-INDEPENDENT MSPS URGE FM TO TOUGHEN STANCE

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy committee, is urging the First Minister to oppose TTIP, the controversial EU-US trade deal.

Writing on behalf of the 5-strong Green-Independent group of MSPs, Ms Johnstone calls on Alex Salmond to press the case against a power grab by big business that undermines democratic decision-making.

The full text of the letter can be seen online at greenmsps.org. It is supported by Alison’s Green colleague Patrick Harvie, along with independent MSPs John Finnie, Jean Urquhart and John Wilson.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

“TTIP is a power grab by private corporations which threatens the NHS. Although Scottish ministers have said they oppose the inclusion of health services in TTIP the negotiations have not yet provided any clear protections, and I urge the First Minister to press the case.

“There’s huge public concern at the offshore corporate courts being proposed. These would enable corporations to sue governments for passing laws which may be in the public interest but affect a company’s profits, an outrageous suggestion.

“We could also see watering down of European protections from the likes of GM foods and beef produced with growth hormones, an issue causing real concern for Scotland’s farmers.

“I hope the Scottish Government will write again to the UK Government stating opposition to TTIP. There is mounting public concern that cannot be ignored.”

 

 

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) have issued their report into the ‘standing firearms authority’ that saw police officers attending routine duties while carrying firearms.

This morning, before the full report was available, John welcomed HMICS’s announcement that their review “states that the impact of hte policy change on public perception was not fully considered by Police Scotland nor has there been a full and informed debate around the deployment of firearms officers to incidents and duties that do not require a firearms response.”

John said:

“As the person who first raised the issue of armed officers attending routine non-firearms incidents I am delighted that the second of the three reviews vindicates my highlighting public concerns.

“Although I haven’t yet seen the full report, I am pleased HMICS confirms that Police Scotland hadn’t ‘fully considered’ the public’s views when they changed their policy.

“I’m pleased too that HMCIS comments on the absence of a ‘full and informed’ debate.

“The recommendation for ‘better communication’ and a clear understanding of ‘operational responsibilities’ are helpful in ensuring we have what we should have had all along – a police service operating with public consent.”

“I am shortly due to give evidence to the third enquiry being held by the Police Authority and I hope that the welcome change by Police Scotland, removing armed officers from attending routine incidents, will see everyone get behind what I hope is a return to community-based policing.”

John asks MEPs to end bullfighting subsidies

Posted: October 22, 2014 by Gary Dunion in News

The 'Save the Bulls' orange handkerchief, logo of the European Greens' campaign against bullfighting.John has written to Scotland’s six MEPs, asking them to back an amendment from the Greens/EFA group (of which the Green Party and the SNP are both members) which opposes the use of European Union money to subsidise the rearing of bulls to be killed in bullfights.

John wrote to all six MEPs, though the SNP’s Alyn Smith has already taken the initiative on the issue, raising a petition of 12,000 names against bullfighting. On his website, Alyn said: “it is unacceptable to have public money boost the coffers of people who rear cattle just so they can be tortured to death.”

John wrote:

Dear Alyn Smith, Ian Hudghton, Catherine Stihler, David Martin, Ian Duncan and David Coburn,

This afternoon, you will be debating and voting on the European Union budget for 2015. You will take many decisions of great importance for the people of Europe, but I’d like to draw your attention to one particular amendment.

Several constituents of mine have contacted me to ask you to vote in favour of Amendment 12, proposed by the Greens/EFA group, which opposes the use of European funds to support the deeply cruel bullfighting industry.

The amendment reads:

45e. Believes that neither CAP appropriations nor any other appropriations from the budget should be used for financing lethal bullfighting activities; recalls that such funding is a clear violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes (Council Directive 98/58/EC);

As one of your constituents myself, I also make this representation on my own behalf. Like many Scots and many across Europe, I am appalled by the prolonged and agonising deaths inflicted upon tens of thousands of bulls per year in the name of entertainment. Opposition is by no means only an ‘outsider’ position: an Ipsos survey last year found that 76% of Spanish people oppose the use of public money – such as the EU budget – to subsidise bullfighting.

It is estimated that farmers who breed bulls for the ring currently receive Common Agricultural Policy payments totalling £110 million per year. That means approximately £13.5 million in subsidy from the UK, despite bullfighting being a criminal offence in this country.

I am certain you all agree with me that it is abhorrent that animals are still tortured to death for public entertainment. While it is possible that you will take a variety of views on whether it is the place of the European Union actively to intervene, I hope that you will also agree with me that, at the very least, public subsidies for such bloodsports have no place in a European Common Agricultural Policy intended to support the production of food and the stewardship of the environment.

Kind regards,

John

Find out more about the European Greens’ campaign against bullfighting by clicking here.

UPDATE: Conservative MEP Ian Duncan replied immediately to confirm he will be voting for the anti-bullfighting amendment. In his blog post, he says: “Much as I could never support a subsidy for tobacco farming, I cannot support Scottish taxpayers’ money going towards the rearing of bulls only for them to be slaughtered in the bullring… I will support the amendment to end the public support of breeding bulls for bullfighting.”

Keep Scotland frack-free

Posted: October 21, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in Blog
Tags: , ,

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

John with Friends of the Earth’s Mr Frackhead.

If you haven’t heard of fracking yet, you will. Fracking – short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ – is a process in which water and other chemicals are injected into shale rock or coal seams at very high pressure, causing the rock to fracture and, the frackers hope, release gas that can be burned as a fuel.

How exactly the rock will break, and where the chemicals released will go, is highly unpredictable. Fracking has been linked to localised earthquakes and dangerous pollution of the soil, water and air.

Even without using fracking, all drilling for shale gas and coalbed methane, particularly in densely-populated areas such as the central belt, raises grave concerns for public health. Most drilling involves introducing hazardous chemicals into the ground, and all drilling runs the risk of releasing dangerous chemicals that occur naturally in coal and shale.

Not only are these risks serious, they’re also unnecessary. Scotland already has access to far more oil and gas than we can safely burn if we hope to limit climate change – we don’t need to risk the health of our children in the search for more fossil fuels of ever-lower quality at ever-higher risk.

Scotland also has genuinely huge potential for renewable energy. With only 1% of the population of the European Union, we have 10% of the EU’s wave energy potential, and 25% of its tidal energy and offshore wind energy potential. If we direct our efforts into developing those resources instead, we can be a clean energy giant for generations to come.

We’re at a critical point for this national decision, so it’s been really encouraging that dozens of people have contacted me to express their opposition to unconventional gas.

The right to exploit oil and gas in the whole of the UK is controlled by the Westminster government. It’s them (through the Department for Energy and Climate Change) that issue licenses to drill. And it’s the Westminster parliament that is currently considering a new law that will allow fracking and other fossil fuel extraction under homes without the consent or even knowledge of the householder.

But there are things we can do in Scotland to fight back.

In the new Scottish Planning Policy, the Scottish Government have required that all applications for shale gas and coal bed methane extraction include a risk assessment, and that that should lead to buffer zones being included in the application. They’ve also required that should permission be granted for one type of drilling and the developer later wants to use hydraulic fracking at the site, they will need to apply for new planning permission.

This is a much more cautious attitude than the UK government, but the Scottish Government can and should do more. I have called on them to place a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction, supporting this motion by my colleague in the Independent/Green group at Holyrood, Alison Johnstone:

Motion S4M-09927: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 02/05/2014
Energy and Climate Change

That the Parliament notes the significant public opposition to new methods of fossil fuel extraction such as fracking and coal-bed methane; notes that energy companies already hold far more fossil fuel reserves than it is safe to burn; agrees with the UK Energy and Climate Change Committee and many others, such as the chairman of Cuadrilla and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that developing unconventional gas in the UK will likely have no effect on the cost of energy for households; opposes the UK Government’s extensive tax breaks for the industry and what it sees as a bribe to local authorities to approve development; supports communities in Falkirk, Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway and across the central belt who are campaigning against unconventional gas, and calls on the Scottish Government to implement a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Scotland in order to protect communities, safeguard local environments and focus investment on renewable energy, given the importance of meeting all targets under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, the third of which is due to be reported to the Parliament imminently.

Supported by: John Finnie
Current Status: Taken in the Chamber on 07/05/2014

This motion was the subject of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 7 May this year – you can read the Official Report of that debate here.

If you have time, I’d urge you to write to your MP to ask them to oppose the proposals in the Infrastructure Bill that will allow developers to drill under homes and other without getting permission from, or even notifying, the householder, and allow them to leave chemicals under your property.

But if this law does pass at Westminster, it is likely that there will need to be what is called a Legislative Consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament. This is a vote to allow Westminster legislation on a subject that is normally devolved to Holyrood – in this case property law and access rights – to take effect in Scotland. These votes are usually just formalities, but I will oppose any motion that would remove your right to object to fracking or drilling under your home or other property.

If you haven’t already, you can write to your MSPs asking them to make the same pledge through the Friends of the Earth Scotland site.

And finally, because planning permission applications go to the local authority in the first instance, councils are also vital decision-makers in the fight to stop fracking. Along with over 48,000 others, I’ve signed the petition to every Scottish council, asking them to refuse planning permission for fracking. If you have the time, maybe you could add your name too?

Why I’ve joined the Scottish Greens

Posted: October 11, 2014 by johnfinniemsp in News
Tags:

Dear friends,

I’m delighted to be able to tell you that this morning, I have become a member of the Scottish Green Party.

I left the Scottish National Party in October 2012 because I could not support the party’s new policy of seeking membership of the NATO nuclear alliance for an independent Scotland. And of course the Scottish Greens have an impeccable track record as campaigners for peace.

But since then, I have worked alongside Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, as well as independent colleagues Jean Urquhart, the much-missed Margo MacDonald, and now John Wilson, as part of the Independent/Green group in the Scottish Parliament.

I have seen the Greens’ co-convenor Maggie Chapman in action when I was supporting her campaign for a seat in the European Parliament earlier this year.

And of course I have campaigned alongside brilliant and committed grassroots Green activists, as well as those of the SNP, SSP, and no party affiliation, in the referendum.

The more I have seen of the Greens, the more I realised I have been a Green all my life – I just didn’t know it yet.

I saw that my values are Green values: social and environmental justice, democracy and integrity, internationalism and peace.

I bear no ill will towards the SNP, where I still have many great friends.

But the great discovery of the past two years has been that the passions that brought me into political activism – self-determination and peace – no longer only have a single party to champion them.

And on a whole host of issues, from NATO to corporate taxation, from climate change to local democracy, I have found that it is the Greens that share my beliefs most closely.

So I’m hugely excited to be joining them as a member this morning, especially as part of a surge that has seen 5,000 other Scots do the same over the last few weeks.

However, I think it would be wrong of me to sit as a Green MSP without you having voted for one.

So I will continue as an independent MSP until the end of this session of parliament next year.

As I have done up to now, I will vote in accordance with the manifesto I stood on in 2011, and with my own conscience and judgement on issues not covered by the manifesto.

I’ll be putting my name forward to be selected as a Green candidate for the Highlands and Islands for 2016. I make no assumptions about that: it’s for the local members to decide who their candidate will be, and for you to decide whether to re-elect me. But I really do hope to carry on serving the region after 2016.

I want to thank the Scottish Greens for my welcome to the party today, which has been warm, generous, and enthusiastic.

And if you feel you share the values I talked about, I want to invite you to join the Greens with me.

Thank you for the continued pleasure and honour of serving as your MSP.

Best wishes,

John

John has welcomed Chief Constable Stephen House’s announcement that officers will no longer carry guns on routine, non-firearms incidents.

John, a former policeman, was the first MSP to challenge Police Scotland over the ‘standing firearms authority’ issued last April which saw armed attending on routine duties such as the Highland Cross charity race.

John has twice questioned Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill on how the decision to routinely arm officers was taken – during a Topical Questions session in May, and after Mr MacAskill’s statement on the issue in August. John also and raised the issue at the Parliament’s Police Committee (Official Report PDF) which took evidence from the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS).

In June, the Chief Constable dismissed criticism as “mischievous,” and described the change as not being “the big issue people say it is” [5].

But Police Scotland have just announced that “the Chief Constable has directed that firearms officers attached to Armed Response Vehicles will now only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.”

John said:

“I welcome the fact that Police Scotland has responded to legitimate public concerns about armed officers walking about our towns and villages, and changed their firearms policy.

“It is a great relief that armed police officers will no longer be seen on our streets dealing with routine police business as this was having a negative impact on community relations.

“The Scottish Police Authority and the HMICS are still inquiring into police firearms deployment [7], and I urge everyone who is concerned about this to contribute to the SPA consultation.

“We still need to understand how this significant change, thankfully reversed, happened in the first place.

“In the meantime, credit to Police Scotland for getting their guns off our streets.”

Speaking in the debate yesterday following the First Minister’s statement on the independence referendum, John warned that the Westminster parties are keen to return to ‘business as usual’, with promises of new powers already being hastily rolled back, and Labour returning to right-wing policies rather than the progressive solidarity they alluded to during the campaign.

He also raised the question of the Treasury’s apparently illegal leaking of market-sensitive information about the Royal Bank of Scotland as part of the UK Government’s anti-independence campaign. Alex Salmond intervened to announce that he will be passing all the information he has on the incident to the appropriate legal authorities.

The unionist parties have been calling for unity – that is, for opposition to their shared neoliberal agenda to end. John pointed out that the gap between much of the Yes movement and the No parties is not just one of constitutional policy, but of deeply-held values: “I am keen that we find common ground — that is important — but I am afraid that the UK unionist parties still view the corporations as being ahead of the citizens. There is no place for that in my outlook on politics.”

Many Yes campaigners will feel disheartened that we did not get everything we wanted, that we don’t have all the levers of power here in Scotland, but if we stay engaged we can still be a formidable force for social and environmental justice, because, as John said: “Democracy is never a lost cause.”

You can watch John’s speech at BBC Democracy Live – skip to 59 minutes 45 seconds.

The full transcript of John’s speech follows. You can read the full debate in the Scottish Parliament’s Official Report.

John Finnie: I noted that Alex Rowley said that, “change we will have”, and many speeches have referred to the term “vow”. If the prize of voting no was devo max, the UK parliamentary motion suggests that that is not the prize that we are now being offered.

Many people know that Conservative Party MPs are pushing for the Barnett formula to be scrapped. The confusion among the No camp about its position was highlighted again by Rod Campbell, who talked about the Campbell commission. Perhaps confused is the Lib Dems’ default position on matters fiscal.

I wonder what history will make of the 11th hour offers that were made. I wonder what it will make of the Treasury briefing. Indeed, more important, as the First Minister mentioned, I wonder what the legal authorities will make of the Treasury briefing. We need to follow that with great interest.

Johann Lamont referred to Labour’s devolution commission report on the Sewel convention and the position of the Scottish Parliament. That is to be welcomed. She also mentioned concerns on the workplace. I wonder whether those concerns are necessarily shared by partners in the No campaign, because it had a combined position.

First Minister Alex Salmond: I should have pointed out that it is my intention to put all the information that I have on the Treasury briefing in the hands of the correct legal authorities so that the investigation that the UK cabinet secretary does not want to make can proceed through the appropriate legal authorities. Then we will see what happens.

John Finnie: I thank the First Minister for that intervention. I am reassured by it and will pay great attention to how the matter progresses.

The referendum was not about electing a reforming Labour UK Government. Indeed, I do not think that that is what we are likely to see anyway—I do not know whether there is any commitment to reviewing health and safety in the workplace or the position on employment tribunal fees and arrangements, which reward poor employers.

The Labour leader talked about different ways to get the answer that we both want and not going back to business as usual but, of course, it is business as usual. I do not want a private NHS and, although the Labour Party south of the border has been complaining about that, we have heard very little about it north of the border. I certainly do not want a House of Lords. That is a way of rewarding the donors to the unionist parties and has no place in a liberal democracy.

Neil Findlay (Lab, Lothian): I hear a lot of critique of the no side from Mr Finnie. Where was the critique from the left of the yes camp of some of their regressive stuff that was in the white paper and the Government’s policy? Mr Finnie was silent.

John Finnie: Mr Findlay knows that I have spoken out on corporation tax, for instance, if that is what he is alluding to.

We know that more of the same means more illegal wars. Trigger-happy folk, including peace envoy Mr Blair, are mouthing off. We know that business as usual means Trident, with £1.43 billion being spent on the early design and the cost of replacement being perhaps £130 billion. It means austerity, which I raised during Mr Findlay’s speech, with 60 per cent of the cuts still to come and the Labour Party signed up to 97 per cent of them—and Labour will do more through its attack on the under-25s.

If we are talking about what we all want, let me say that I do not want the same language. I do not want talk of “British jobs for British workers”, for instance.

I am keen that we find common ground — that is important — but I am afraid that the UK unionist parties still view the corporations as being ahead of the citizens. There is no place for that in my outlook on politics.

Politics is about priorities, and priorities have to be funded. The question is what will be improved by the no vote. Will the no vote address the challenge of zero-hours contracts, which concern Mr Findlay? Will it improve the situation in relation to work capability assessments?

The UK will cut the Scottish Government’s funding, which will have implications for the priorities that are decided on in this Parliament.

I share Jackie Baillie’s concern about the 900,000 people who are affected by fuel poverty. She will be aware of the survey in the Highlands and Islands that shows that the vast majority of pensioners in the area are in severe fuel poverty, with the highest percentage in Orkney — it is ironic that most of those pensioners live in sight of the flare at the Flotta oil terminal. Energy is a reserved matter, of course.

I take issue with Jackie Baillie on what she said about people choosing between heating and lighting. That choice is already being made, and is reflected in the decisions of food banks to give out cold food because people do not have the wherewithal to heat food.

Jackie Baillie (Lab, Dumbarton): Will the member take an intervention?

John Finnie: I thank the member, but I will not; I have a few points to make and I have taken a couple.

I respect the result, and it is important that we do so. Mostly, I respect the engagement that has taken place, particularly in many areas where, historically, there has not been engagement. I am thinking about the Radical Independence Campaign event in Merkinch, in Inverness, which showed that people turn out when they are given the facts and encouraged to believe that their views matter. I am sure that all sides of the debate respect that.

Most of all, I respect the aspirations to make things better that many people hold. Of course we will work with everyone to deliver improvements. The fiscal commission working group said that we need economic and taxation levers if we are to do that, but that does not mean that we should not keep fighting for social and environmental justice.

Democracy is a great thing. We need to reinforce that message for people who engaged but who feel that, because they did not get the result that they wanted, it is a lost cause. Democracy is never a lost cause. We commend everyone for their participation in this historic event.