New 20mph and workplace parking levy legislation

Proposed legislative changes affecting motorists were the subject of attention in Parliament this week: the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee held its first evidence session on the Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill, while the Finance and Constitution Committee, as part of its examination of the Budget (Scotland) (No 3) Bill, discussed the mooted workplace parking levy with finance secretary Derek Mackay, and it was also the topic that the Conservatives’ Jackson Carlaw chose to raise with John Swinney, who was standing in for Nicola Sturgeon at Thursday’s First Minister’s question time.

REC Committee evidence on speed limit bill (6 February 2019)

Finance and Constitution Committee budget bill evidence (6 February 2019)

First Minister’s Question Time (7 February 2019)

The Restricted Roads (20 mph Speed Limit) (Scotland) Bill is a member’s bill, introduced by Mark Ruskell of the Green Party, to reduce the default speed limit on restricted roads from 30mph to 20mph. Understandably, several members of the committee were keen to get an understanding of what percentage of the 30mph roads in Scotland are restricted and would therefore be covered by the bill. They were told that that data is difficult to collate but that, in Edinburgh, where a 20mph limit has already been rolled out,

“about 80 per cent of the roads … are covered by the 20mph limit”.

Adrian Davis, professor of transport and health at Edinburgh Napier University, brought his academic expertise to bear. He revealed that,

“for every 1mph reduction in average speed, there is a 6 per cent reduction in the number of collisions”.

When the convener suggested that cyclists “doing 30mph or 40mph downhill” might be a problem, Professor Davis responded that that was “an outlier question” on a “minor point”, observing that

“Getting up to 30mph is quite difficult for most people on bikes. The science is based on mass and speed … It is the mass of the vehicle that will do more damage … A bike is much smaller … Most people are hit by motor vehicles.”

On the workplace parking levy, Derek Mackay told the Finance and Constitution Committee:

“We have agreed, in principle, to accept an amendment that introduces the power for local authorities to adopt the levy.”

The fact that the amendment in question will be to the Transport (Scotland) Bill, the stage 1 report on which the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is currently drafting, and that it will be lodged by Green Party member John Finnie, led the REC Committee to change its agenda so that its handling of the issue could be discussed.

Among the concerns expressed, Mike Rumbles emphasised, “this is not a normal process”, but John Finnie reassured committee members:

“I am flagging this amendment up only as a courtesy, given the profile that the issue has received. I do not want to circumvent any procedures, because I think that they are absolutely important.”

REC Committee Transport (Scotland) Bill discussion (6 February 2019)

Letting the genie out of the bag

On Wednesday, the Education and Skills Committee held an interesting evidence session as part of its inquiry into Scottish national standardised assessments, hearing first from Andy Hargreaves, an academic with expertise in the impact on teachers of educational reform and experience of the systems in a number of countries, including the US, the UK and Canada, and then from Jackie Brock of Children in Scotland and Sue Palmer of Upstart Scotland.

Professor Hargreaves described the change in approach that has taken place in Ontario, where there is now a focus on

“what they call mystery students or students of wonder. A student of wonder is a wonderful student who is struggling with a particular aspect of their learning, and teachers in the school, who work together collaboratively, wonder why. The school will bring together the teacher who teaches them now, the teachers who used to teach them, the special education support teacher, the language specialist, a school counsellor and a speech therapist … to look at that student of wonder and to work out how to advance their learning.”

An exchange with the convener on parents’ awareness of testing was the occasion for the coining of the phrase “the genie is out of the bag”, which Sue Palmer said was

“particularly significant when it comes to P1, because the ratcheting up of parental anxiety impacts on the children. Within a year of the announcement that we would be testing primary 1 children, workbooks on how to help your child with P1 literacy and P1 numeracy had already appeared in the bookshops.”

In the chamber, Thursday’s stage 1 debate on the budget bill was a feisty affair from the off. In his opening speech, Derek Mackay, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, was pressed by Mike Rumbles, Kezia Dugdale and James Kelly on, respectively, the abolition of the council tax, local authority cuts and support for low-income families. Uproar followed during Murdo Fraser’s opening speech for the Conservatives when, in response to an intervention from the Greens’ Andy Wightman, Mr Fraser mentioned Mr Wightman’s book “Who owns Scotland” and asked, “Who owns Andy Wightman?”, with SNP members gesticulating to indicate their view on who owns Scotland.

The combative atmosphere continued throughout the intervention-strewn contributions of James Kelly and Patrick Harvie, with matters subsequently coming to a head during the speeches of Miles Briggs and Tom Arthur. When Neil Findlay sought to intervene on the latter, the Deputy Presiding Officer, Linda Fabiani, made a plea:

“I ask that the temperature of this debate be lowered because it is becoming ridiculous.”

With the support of the Greens, the Government’s motion on the budget bill was agreed to at decision time.


No room for hatred: the Holocaust remembered

At Tuesday’s topical question time and Thursday’s First Minister’s question time last week, the Cryptococcus infection incident at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth university hospital was the focus of attention. On Tuesday, responding to Monica Lennon, Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, revealed that the source of the infection was pigeons getting into a plant room on the 12th floor of the building. She announced that a review would be set up, the remit for which would be made available by the end of the week.

Topical Question time (Cryptococcus infection) (22 Jan 2019)

First Minister’s Question Time (24 Jan 2019)

It was a busy week for Ms Freeman. On Wednesday, she gave the chamber an update on the situation as regards clinical waste services for the NHS in Scotland following the ceasing of operations of the Shotts-based Healthcare Environmental Services, while on Thursday she gave evidence to the Public Petitions Committee on three health-related petitions: one on access to glucose monitoring for people with type 1 diabetes; one on MRI scans for ocular melanoma sufferers; and one on the treatment of people with ME.

Ministerial statement (clinical waste services) (23 Jan 2019)

Public Petitions Committee (24 Jan 2019)

On Wednesday, the Local Government and Communities Committee heard from Rosemary Agnew, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman, on the ombudsman’s annual report and accounts. Ms Agnew spoke of her desire

“to lead the way with a modern ombudsman service”,

but expressed frustration about the lack of progress on giving people the ability to make a complaint “in any format”. She also talked of her desire for the SPSO to have the power to launch its own investigations, as ombudsmen in other countries do.

Local Government and Communities Committee (23 Jan 2019)

At Thursday lunch time, Richard Lyle led the annual members’ business debate on Holocaust memorial day. In a powerful speech, Adam Tomkins quoted Primo Levi asking, with amazement, in his autobiographical account of the Holocaust,

“how can one hit a man without anger?”,

and concluded

“There is plenty of room in politics for emotion, for frenzy and even for anger, but not for hatred … Let that, for us, be the lesson of the Holocaust.”

Several members paid tribute to the outstanding heroism and humanity of particular individuals: Gillian Martin spoke of the paediatrician, journalist and children’s author, Dr Janusz Korczak; Ross Greer highlighted the role of Mordechai Anielewicz, who led the Warsaw ghetto uprising; and Annabelle Ewing singled out for praise the young Polish social worker Irena Sendler, who saved 2,500 children over a period of four years.

Members’ business (Holocaust memorial day) (24 Jan 2019)

Enterprise bill evidence in Dumfries

Last Monday, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee travelled to Dumfries as part of the evidence-taking process on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, which will set up a new south of Scotland enterprise agency. Following an informal discussion with interested business and community groups, the committee held a formal evening meeting in Easterbrook Hall, hearing first from representatives of the two local authorities affected by the bill—Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council—as well as the south of Scotland economic partnership, and then from community organisations, small businesses and Community Land Scotland.

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee evidence session on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill (14 January 2019)


Easterbrook Hall is an impressive art deco building from the 1930s that was built as part of the Crichton royal psychiatric hospital, complete with a variety of facilities for all the patients, including a small swimming pool. Dr Elaine Murray, who was giving evidence at the meeting as the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, spoke about the origins of the building in a members’ business debate on the then-threatened Crichton university campus back in 2007, when she was the Labour MSP for Dumfries:

“When Dr James Crichton died in 1923, it was his wish that his considerable fortune should be used to create a university in Dumfries. His widow, Elizabeth Crichton, tried valiantly to have his wish fulfilled but, unfortunately, the existing Scottish universities opposed the creation of a rival in the south. Instead, a psychiatric hospital, the Crichton royal, was created. For many years, it won international recognition as a centre of excellence.

When the treatment of people with mental health and learning difficulties moved away from institutionalised care, the opportunity arose to make Elizabeth and James Crichton’s dreams of a university campus a reality. In fact, one of the ancient universities that had opposed the establishment of a university in Dumfries—the University of Glasgow—spearheaded the new development by signing the first Crichton accord in December 1996. Since then, the Crichton campus has grown into a unique collaboration between higher and further education partners: the University of Glasgow, the University of Paisley, Bell College, the Open University and Dumfries and Galloway College.”

Thankfully, those institutions continue their involvement at the Crichton campus to this day, with the University of Paisley and Bell College now forming the University of the West of Scotland.

Creative Commons photo of Easterbrook Hall at night by Grant McIntosh Photography

From BSL to Bobby Ewing in the shower

At Thursday’s First Minister’s question time, the Presiding Officer extended—in British Sign Language—a warm welcome

“to the many members of the deaf community and BSL users and signers who are present in the public gallery”.

He went on to announce that, for the next six months, the Parliament will provide a signed translation of FMQs. You can find out what this service looks like here—to activate the signing function, simply click on the BSL icon in the “About this meeting” section.

The Presiding Officer also reiterated the plea for concise questions and answers that he had made before the Christmas recess, giving emphasis to the point by signing it in BSL.

When it came to FMQs itself, the initial exchanges were focused on the Alex Salmond investigation, in relation to which the First Minister had made a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, following the conclusion of the judicial review of the procedure for handling complaints involving current or former ministers.

First Minister’s question time (10 January 2019)

First Minister’s statement (8 January 2019)

At this time of year, scrutiny of the draft budget tends to dominate the work of the committees, and on Wednesday, as part of its budget scrutiny, after hearing from the Scottish Fiscal Commission, the Finance and Constitution Committee took evidence from Robert Chote of the Office for Budget Responsibility. In response to a question from Patrick Harvie about a hypothetical no-Brexit scenario, Mr Chote provoked laughter when he said:

“It would not be like that scene in ‘Dallas’ where … it was all a dream.”

At the end of the meeting, the convener, Bruce Crawford, thanked him for that entertaining reference to the Bobby Ewing shower scene and, more generally, for his ability to

“bring humour to such occasions.”

Finance and Constitution Committee budget scrutiny (9 January 2019)


The centenary of the Iolaire disaster: ceud bliadhna às dèidh na h-Iolaire

Yesterday, the Parliament held a debate to mark the centenary of the Iolaire disaster. The debate was led by the MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan, who delivered his speech in Gaelic.

In the early hours of the morning of 1 January 1919, His Majesty’s yacht Iolaire was carrying sailors home from the great war when it struck a group of rocks called the Beasts of Holm. The ship sank just a short distance from Stornoway, leading to the tragic death of more than 200 of the around 280 men on board, many of whose families were waiting on the pier to welcome them home from the war.

The tragic loss of so many men in such cruel circumstances had a devastating impact on the island communities of Lewis and Harris, where most of the men were from, and it continues to be remembered with deep and grave sadness to this day. As Alasdair Allan pointed out in his speech,

“We are probably talking about the equivalent of 5,000 families in Glasgow all losing a son on one day, as that was the scale of the impact that the Iolaire had on Lewis and Harris. Bear in mind, too, that the Iolaire came after a war in which that same community had already lost 1,300 people.”

The enduring sadness and grief caused by the disaster was palpable during the debate, with many members giving deeply powerful and personal speeches. Angus MacDonald, who grew up on the farm in Lewis next to where the tragedy occurred, and whose grandfather donated the land for the first official memorial, said:

“this is probably the most difficult speech that I have ever had to write or, indeed, to deliver in the chamber.”

Interestingly, “Iolaire” is the Gaelic word for eagle, which is pronounced /jul̪ˠɪɾʲ/ or “ee-yol-air-uh.” However, when referring to HMY Iolaire, most people, including Gaelic speakers, pronounce the word as /eɪəʊˈle/ or “eye-oh-layer.”

As Alasdair Allan explained in his contribution to the debate, although the ship had a Gaelic name, “the Royal Navy had no idea how to pronounce [it], so ‘I-o-laire’ stuck.” Indeed, the ship was referred to as the /eɪəʊˈle/ throughout the debate (although the Official Report, as the written record of proceedings, does not convey that nuance).

Many events are planned to mark the centenary of the disaster, including a national commemorative service on new year’s day 2019 that will be attended by Prince Charles and the First Minister. Following the service, Prince Charles will unveil a new sculpture to commemorate the Iolaire.

As Lewis Macdonald said in concluding his speech, “Gu dearbh, cuimhnichidh sinn iad: We will indeed remember them.”


Readers might be interested to know that the National Library of Scotland has an excellent resource on the Iolaire. Those with an interest in finding out more about the Parliament and its work in Gaelic might like to have a look at the Parliament’s Gaelic blog:

Our thanks go to Dr Alasdair MacCaluim, Oifigear Leasachaidh Gàidhlig/Gaelic Officer at the Scottish Parliament, for the following Gaelic translation of this post:


Chùm a’ Phàrlamaid deasbad an-dè gus ceud bliadhna bho mhòr-thubaist na h-Iolaire a chomharrachadh. Chaidh an deasbad a stiùireadh le Alasdair Allan, BPA airson nan Eileanan Siar, a thug seachad òraid sa Ghàidhlig.

Tràth sa mhadainn air 1 Faoilleach 1919, bha His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire a’ giùlan sheòladairean dhachaigh bhon Chogadh Mhòr nuair a bhuail i air na chreagan air a bheil Biastan Thuilm. Chaidh an long fodha gu math faisg air Steòrnabhagh. Bha mu 280 fir air bòrd agus chaidh còrr is 200 aca a mharbhadh san tubaist uamhasach. Aig an aon àm, bha na teaghlaichean aig mòran aca a’ feitheamh air a’ chidhe airson fàilte a chur orra agus iad air tighinn dhachaigh bhon chogadh.

Thug e fìor dhroch bhuaidh air na coimhearsnachdan eileanach ann an Leòdhas is na Hearadh gun deach an uiread de dh’fhir a chall ann an suidheachadh cho uamhasach. Bha a’ mhòr-chuid de na fireannaich às na coimhearsnachdan sin agus thathar a’ cuimhneachadh air na thachair le bròn domhainn trom chun an latha an-diugh. Mar a thuirt Alasdair Allan san òraid aige,

“Is dòcha gum biodh sinn a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn 5,000 teaghlach ann an Glaschu a’ call mac air an aon latha. Sin an seòrsa buaidh a bha aig an Iolaire air a’ choimhearsnachd ann an Leòdhas agus na Hearadh.  Agus, cuimhnich, thàinig an Iolaire às dèidh cogadh anns an robh an aon choimhearsnachd air 1,300 neach eile a chall.”

Bha am bròn leantainneach a dh’adhbharaich an tubaist follaiseach tron deasbad agus thug buill òraidean seachad a bha fìor chumhachdach is pearsanta. Dh’fhàs Aonghas Dòmhnallach suas air an tuathanas ann an Leòdhas ri taobh far an do thachair an tubaist, agus thug a sheanair seachad an talamh airson a’ chiad charragh-chuimhne oifigeil. Thuirt e:

“is dòcha gur e seo an òraid as doirbhe a bha agam ri sgrìobhadh, no gu dearbh, ri lìbhrigeadh san t-seòmar riamh.”

’S e ainm Gàidhlig a th’ ann an “Iolaire”, a’ ciallachadh “eagle”, agus tha seo air fhuaimneachadh mar /jul̪ˠɪɾʲ/. Ach, nuair a thathar a’ bruidhinn mun HMY Iolaire, bidh a’ mhòr-chuid, a’ gabhail a-steach daoine aig a bheil Gàidhlig, a’ fuaimneachadh a h-ainm mar /eɪəʊˈle/. Mar a mhìnich Alasdair Allan anns an deasbad, ged a bha ainm Gàidhlig air a’ bhàta, “cha robh càil a dh’fhios aig a’ Chabhlach Rìoghail ciamar a chanadh iad an t-ainm sin, agus bha an t-ainm “I-o-laire” air a chleachdadh.”

Gu dearbha, tron deasbad air fad, b’ e an /eɪəʊˈle/ am fuaimneachadh a chaidh a chleachdadh (ged nach eil seo follaiseach bhon Aithisg Oifigeil a chionn ‘s gur e clàr sgrìobhte de na gnothaichean a th’ ann).

Tha iomadh tachartas gu bhith ann gus ceud bliadhna bhon tubaist a chomharrachadh, a’ gabhail a-steach seirbheis cuimhneachaidh nàiseanta air Latha na Bliadhna Ùire 2019, far am bi am Prionnsa Teàrlach agus am Prìomh Mhinistear an làthair. Aig deireadh na seirbheis, foillseachaidh am Prionnsa Teàrlach ìomhaigh ùr gus an Iolaire a chomharrachadh.

Mar a thuirt Lewis Dòmhnallach aig deireadh na h-òraid aige, “Gu dearbh, cuimhnichidh sinn iad: We will indeed remember them.”

Seasonal proceedings

Several items of chamber business last week had a seasonal feel—seasonal in the parliamentary sense, that is. On Tuesday, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing led the annual debate on the European fisheries negotiations while, on Wednesday, finance secretary Derek Mackay made the now traditional December statement on the draft budget for the forthcoming financial year.

Debate on the end-of-year European fisheries negotiations (11 December 2018)

Ministerial statement on the Scottish Government’s draft spending and tax plans for 2019-20 (12 December 2018)

Given the wider political situation, it was no surprise that the budget statement was preceded by a Brexit update from Michael Russell. That was followed, on Thursday, by a statement by the Lord Advocate on the UK Supreme Court’s judgment on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, in which the court determined that section 17 of the bill would not be within the legislative competence of the Parliament.

Ministerial statement (Brexit update) (12 December 2018)

Statement on the Supreme Court’s judgment on the legal continuity bill (13 December 2018)

Later on Thursday, the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill—a private bill—completed the final stage of its parliamentary passage. As Andy Wightman noted, many of the 16 private bills that the Parliament has previously enacted have dealt with infrastructure projects or common good land. Since the passing of the Transport and Works (Scotland) Act 2007, most infrastructure projects no longer require this form of legislation, but private bills are

“unavoidable where the intention is to review, update or amend older private acts.”

Mr Wightman went on to encapsulate the historical significance of the land that the bill relates to and the importance of the Parliament’s role in balancing competing interests in all the legislative proposals that it considers:

“Throughout the middle ages, the abbey of Inchaffray was known as Insula Missarum, or the Isle of Masses. It was one of a number of islands rising above the flooded marshland. As early as 1218, the monks had reclaimed parts of the marsh and, following the battle of Bannockburn, when the abbot reportedly led mass for the Scottish army, further work was undertaken as a mark of appreciation and thanks by Robert Bruce.

At one level, this is a fascinating story of how private enterprise has, over an area of 2,000 acres, secured drainage of valuable land under a governance scheme that makes it clear where the benefits and liabilities fall. That function is being updated through the bill. As Mary Fee correctly pointed out, such bills are balancing acts that will not always be agreeable to all parties. However, that illustrates Parliament’s importance in balancing competing interests that always arise with bills, whether private or public.”

Debate on the final stage of the Pow of Inchaffray Drainage Commission (Scotland) Bill (13 December 2018)