Tomorrow is an historic day for everyone living in Scotland, a chance to put citizens’ interests ahead of corporations’, an opportunity to reduce inequality and to deliver social and environmental justice. It only takes an ‘X’ to secure a more just, outward-looking, independent future for our country. Please vote for a positive future. Please vote ‘Yes’.
The ‘Indies for Indy’ tour finished Saturday 13th September lunch-time with a great wee meeting in the Ormlie Community Centre, Thurso.
At the outset, Jean and I planned to try and do a lunch-time and evening meeting each day. We sent the meeting dates and locations to Better Together. We told them that, in our experience, people preferred a debate to listening to one side and we invited them to send speakers along. Within 11 minutes of sending that invitation, we received a reply from ‘speakers@BetterTogether’ thanking us but advising that ‘since the event has been organised by Yes we won’t attend’. We were genuinely disappointed but made clear in our posters that ‘Yes, No, Undecided’ were all welcome.’
Both Jean and I had been doing separate meetings before and in between from Jean doing the BBC debate in Shetland to me doing a debate in Kilchoan.
The first night was Kirkhill on September 1st. BetterTogether had put up two MSPs to speak then withdrew claiming the community run event was a ‘Yes’ event. I understand they were invited to bring their own chairperson but still declined. A welcome 11th hour intervention by Gary Coutts meant a somewhat lop-sided debate did go ahead with Jean and I getting 5 minutes each and Gary given 10. A poll was taken on entry and exit at Kirkhill and the movement in the 90 strong crowd was clearly from No to ‘Yes’, perhaps the very reason why BetterTogether don’t wish to take part in public debates. Kirkhill was not the only one they withdrew from that week.
The following night we spoke as guests of Professor Alan Riach, Scotland’s only chair of Scottish Literature and Sandy Moffat an artist on ‘Arts and Independence’. There is no doubt that Scotland’s cultural community is one again at the forefront of our Nation’s quest for constitutional change.
We held our first lunchtime meeting in Dornoch the following lunch-time. This was the first time we tried the technology of showing two short film clips, ‘The News where you are’ by James Robertson and Dr Philippa Whitford speaking on the NHS. Despite my late night training course in the Phipps Hall Beauly the previous day, the technical side posed some challenges.
Onwards to a meeting in the very far north that night in Tongue attended by 10% of the population many armed with home-baking. The return journey on endless miles of single track saw us meet a shaken motorist who had just hit a deer. Evening and night time travel can be very dangerous at this time of year.
The next afternoon I debated with Dave Stewart MSP in front of retired Members of the UNITE trade union in Inverness and then on to Cromarty where we were joined by the first guest speaker of our tour, the excellent Heather Urquhart of the Scottish Green Party.
Friday saw another debate with Mary Scanlon MSP with a great Q & A with adults with learning disability supported by People First, again in Inverness.
That Friday night we travelled to Glenelg and were joined by Jen Stout. Jen is from Shetland and spoke on behalf of Women for Indy and Radical Indy. This event was filmed by a German documentary maker who is following Jen around the country. What marked this meeting out was the fact that it was perhaps the only one which didn’t have an obvious ‘Yes’ dominated audience, however, that was a great opportunity to change views.
The next day, through torrential rain, to a lunchtime meeting in Gairloch and evening meeting in Achiltibuie.
Sunday was a day off from the tour but still very busy. On Monday (8th September) Jean and I had separate engagements, the previously mentioned debate in Kilchoan for me – 3 and a half hours driving through wonderful scenery. Dinner was a white pudding supper and a twenty minute debate in a chip shop in Fort-William with the Kurdish owners and a local man who’d just finished working in a bar. There’s no doubt that wearing a badge is a great way of prompting discussions and people are genuinely interested in talking about the referendum.
Tuesday night in Mallaig with an eager UKIP fan in the audience was another good meeting with an early start to drive to Oban the next morning. Remarkably for Jean and I were early and took the opportunity to have a coffee outdoors, quite by chance beside the BT office. I sat incredulous listing to a woman handing out BT papers saying ‘See it’s all about oil. If the price drops 10% then 10% less people can be treated by the NHS.’ When she finished speaking to the nodding tourist she caught my eye and I took the opportunity to quietly suggest that the public deserve facts and not inaccurate lies. Raising her voice, she replied ‘That’s typical of the SNP wanting to shout at folk’. Oh dear, time to get back to the coffee and empire biscuit. Perhaps on reflection it was a bad choice of cake.
I greeted everyone coming into our Oban meeting. The only one who didn’t reciprocate stated ‘I’m a No voter you said you’d welcome us, so I’m here’. During the Q & A the gentleman made a brief speech and this prompted some lively and courteous debate, just as we had hoped for throughout.
Our evening meeting was in Lochgilphead and we were disappointed that illness meant our guest speaker, Elaine Morrison of the Green Party, was unable to join us for what was a great evening of debate.
The next day we were at Garve village hall and appreciated the searching questions of the ‘Don’t knows’ that attended.
Our evening meeting was in the Tollbooth in Forres, a magnificent setting, formerly the home of Forres Town Council. Our guest speaker that night was James MacKessack-Leitch of Highlands and Islands Green Party and the well-attended meeting proved one of the most engaging we held.
As Jean and I had oragnsied a coffee morning for the Children’s Hospice in the morning which we wanted to be strictly apolitical, we were restricted only having an evening meeting that Friday night in Wick, held in the wonderful Pipe Band Hall. The following day we spent some time on the YES Wick street stall before our final lunchtime meeting in Thurso.
During the tour we travelled over 1600 miles from the far north coast to Mid Argyll. That we only managed a portion of the Highlands and Islands constituency perhaps illustrates the challenge Jen and I have representing the region
Jean and I are very grateful to the local folk who helped by putting up posters and arranging the venues and to our excellent speakers each of whom you will certainly hear much more from in the future.
Was it worthwhile? I certainly think so. Whilst our average attendance was a couple of dozen we spoke to countless others at our many coffee stops.
We’re in the final week. Jean has headed north to Shetland and I will be assisting in Inverness and Moray – there’s still lots of Undecideds out there!
John has secured a meeting between the Highland Cycle Campaign and Transport Minister Keith Brown to discuss the problems cyclists face with the Kessock Bridge upgrade.
Questioning Mr Brown in Parliament this week, John asked ‘what methods of consultation the Scottish Government uses to gauge the views of cyclist to major trunk road works’, and highlighted the perceived ‘discouragement of cycling’ and the need for Transport Scotland to improve its complaints handing system.
Speaking after John said:
“I received representations from the Highland’s cycling community about how Transport Scotland had dealt with cyclists and their complaints. I raised those concerns directly with Transport Scotland and I understand why their response to me fails to satisfy my constituents, including pedestrians who were also adversely affected.
“The Scottish Government rightly promotes and encourages active travel and I’m keen to see that nothing frustrates the ability of cyclist to safely use our quality cycle routes and paths.
“I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet with me and Highland Cycle Campaign whom I know will be able to make constructive suggestions to avoid some of the past difficulties.”
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.”
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″
The motion debated was as below.
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
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.
You can also watch it using the link below:
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 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.
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.
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.