A fond farewell

Last week’s business in the chamber began with a motion of condolence following the death over the summer of the Parliament’s former Presiding Officer, Sir Alex Fergusson. With members of Sir Alex’s family watching from the public gallery, the current Presiding Officer and all the party leaders spoke warmly of their former colleague.

Motion of condolence on Sir Alex Fergusson (2 Oct 2018)

Tuesday’s topical question time was on the thorny issue of the proposed arrangements for the Scottish League Cup semi-finals, with the Scottish Professional Football League’s scheduling of the Aberdeen v Rangers and Hearts v Celtic games at the same venue—Hampden park—on the same Sunday at the end of October having attracted much public criticism.

Topical Question Time (League Cup semi-final arrangements) (2 Oct 2018)

Thursday afternoon’s debate on women and girls in sport week, in contrast, was an altogether more positive affair, with many members citing the recent success of athletes including Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan at the European championships, the achievement of the Scottish women’s football team in getting to the 2019 world cup finals and the memorable performances of many Scottish female athletes at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games.

Plenary debate on women and girls in sport week (4 Oct 2018)

In committee, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee heard from the keeper of the registers of Scotland on regulations dealing with a new register of information on people with controlled interests in land, while the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee continued its pre-budget scrutiny by talking to Derek Mackay, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, and Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills.

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee evidence on register of persons holding a controlled interest in land regulations (2 Oct 2018)

Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee pre-budget scrutiny (2 Oct 2018)

Brexit x4, health, ferries and police and fire reform

Last week, while the Justice Committee continued its look back at the creation of single police and fire services under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012—hearing from, among others, the Auditor General for Scotland and the chief inspector of constabulary—the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee looked ahead to next year’s budget, focusing on Clyde and Hebrides ferry services.

Justice Committee post-legislative scrutiny of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 (25 Sept 2018)

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee pre-budget scrutiny (26 Sept 2018)

Meanwhile, the Finance and Constitution Committee’s discussion of common frameworks, which it had been on a trip to Brussels to find out about the previous week, was closely related to Tuesday afternoon’s plenary debate on Scotland’s role in the development of future UK trade arrangements.

Finance and Constitution Committee common frameworks (26 Sept 2018)

Plenary debate on Scotland’s role re future UK trade arrangements (25 Sept 2018)

This was the first in a series of chamber proceedings in which Brexit was again the focus of attention. Wednesday afternoon’s statement by Fergus Ewing on the common agricultural policy, in which he set out the Scottish Government’s intention for farmers to continue to receive their current payment entitlements “largely as they currently are” until 2022, was followed by a members’ business debate, led by David Stewart, on the implications for cancer patients of the UK leaving the European Atomic Energy Community—Euratom.

Ministerial statement on the CAP (26 Sept 2018)

Members’ business debate on impact of UK leaving Euratom (26 Sept 2018)

Away from Brexit, health was the subject of two ministerial statements: the new Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey, herself a former mental health nurse, made one on mental health (specifically, the mental health strategy 2018 annual report), while Jeane Freeman, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, addressed the chamber on paediatric services at St John’s hospital.

Ministerial statement on the mental health strategy 2018 annual report (25 Sept 2018)

Ministerial statement on paediatric services at St John’s hospital (27 Sept 2018)

Gaelic in the chamber

“Do members ever speak in Gaelic in Parliament and how do you report it when they do?” is a question our readers often ask, I imagine. They do, and you can see in the Official Report of Wednesday’s members’ business debate on BBC Alba how Gaelic appears in the OR.

Alasdair Allan, Ruth Maguire, Angus MacDonald and Rhoda Grant spoke to the motion in Gaelic in whole or in part, and their speeches were interpreted into English at the time for the non-Gaelic speakers in the chamber. The OR carried both the Gaelic original and the English interpretation. A point to note is that what appears in the OR is not a translation of the Gaelic but a transcript of what was heard by members at the time; any mistake or omission in the interpretation would be left uncorrected.

Interpreter snap

Although the OR includes the text of any Gaelic that is spoken, it doesn’t contain a Gaelic translation of speeches that were made in English. However, last week, for the first time, a Gaelic translation of an entire debate was published: the debate on the “Gaelic National Language Plan 2018-2023” that took place on April 24. This is the OR and this is the Gaelic language version.

You may have noticed that, in both examples discussed above, the debate not only included speeches in Gaelic but was itself about Gaelic. Alasdair Allan has certainly spotted that pattern, and he finished his speech on Wednesday by giving notice of his intention to change it and to make speeches in Gaelic about any subject he chooses:

“Dìreach mar a tha cuilean son na beatha agus chan ann dìreach son na Nollaig, chan eil a’ Ghàidhlig ann dìreach son a bhith a’ bruidhinn mu dheidhinn na Gàidhlig. Tha BBC Alba a’ tuigsinn sin. Anns an spioraid sin, tha mi cìnnteach gum bi mi fhèin a’ cleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns a’ Phàrlamaid, chan ann dìreach airson a bhith a’ bruidhinn mun Ghàidhlig mar a tha mi an-dràsta, ach bidh sibh gam chluinntinn bho àm gu àm a’ faighneachd cèist mu sheirbhisean slàinte no mu Bhrexit anns a’ Ghàidhlig cuideachd.”
“Language, like a puppy, is for life and not just for Christmas. Gaelic is not just there to be talked about in Gaelic—BBC Alba understands that. In that vein, I will certainly be using Gaelic from time to time in Parliament and not just in order to talk about Gaelic as I am doing now. Members will hear me asking questions, perhaps about health services or Brexit, in Gaelic.”

It is fitting then that this week the Presiding Officer, in his foreword to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body’s new “Gaelic Language Plan”, outlined that one of the plan’s priorities is “supporting our MSPs and staff in developing confidence and enabling them to use Gaelic in their work.” Given that Michael Russell, who has previously given a speech in Gaelic in Parliament, is now the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Alasdair Allan might even get the answer to his questions on Brexit in Gaelic.

If you’d like to find out more about Gaelic in the Parliament, why not try the Parliament’s Gaelic blog https://parlamaidalba.wordpress.com/ or follow the Gaelic twitter feed at @ParlAlba?


Two new bills, a cabinet secretary’s debut and a cinematic release

Health and Care (Staffing) and Transport Bills

Last week, two bills began their journey through Parliament, with the Health and Sport Committee taking evidence on the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill from two panels of stakeholders, and the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee hearing from three groups of Scottish Government officials with responsibilities in areas covered by the Transport (Scotland) Bill:

Health and Sport Committee stage 1 evidence on the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill (11 Sept 2018)

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee stage 1 evidence on the Transport (Scotland) Bill (12 Sept 2018)

Brexit implications (justice)

Meanwhile, Humza Yousaf, the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice, made his first appearance before the Justice Committee to talk about the impact of Brexit on the justice system and policing in Scotland:

Justice Committee evidence on Brexit implications for justice and policing (11 Sept 2018)

Chilean-Scottish solidarity

At Thursday lunch time in the chamber, Linda Fabiani led a debate on the film “Nae Pasaran!”, which premiered at this year’s Glasgow film festival, the recent full cinematic release of which coincided with the 45th anniversary of the Chilean military coup. Members heard how the film tells the story of the Rolls-Royce engineers in East Kilbride who, in 1974, showed their support for the people of Chile by refusing to repair jet engines for the Chilean air force:

Members’ business debate on “Nae Pasaran!” (13 Sept 2018)

Jam-packed return to business

Programme for government

The first week back after summer recess was dominated by the programme for government, which Parliament debated on three successive afternoons, following Nicola Sturgeon’s statement.

Plenary debate on the programme for government (4 Sept 2018)

Plenary debate on the programme for government (5 Sept 2018)

Plenary debate on the programme for government (6 Sept 2018)

Trade post-Brexit

Another focus of attention was the UK Trade Bill, with George Hollingbery, the UK Government’s Minister of State for Trade Policy, giving evidence to two committees, followed—in the case of the Finance Committee—by the Scottish Government’s Mike Russell.

Finance and Constitution Committee evidence on the UK Trade Bill (5 Sept 2018)

Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee evidence on the UK Trade Bill (5 Sep 2018)

Building regs, fire safety and the age of criminal responsibility

Other noteworthy sessions were the Local Government and Communities Committee’s evidence taking on building regulations and fire safety from Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, and some eminent experts in those fields—

Local Government and Communities Committee evidence on building regulations and fire safety (5 Sept 2018)

—and the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s focus on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill at stage 1, which saw Duncan Dunlop of Who Cares? Scotland argue passionately that the Government should be bolder and raise the age not to 12, as proposed in the bill, but to 16 or 18:

Equalities and Human Rights Committee evidence on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill (6 Sept 2018)

A summery message

By the time the parliamentary summer recess comes round, even the normally exuberant staff of the OR can be feeling a little weary. In a time of pretty unprecedented political uncertainty, it’s a pity that the serious and often cross-party work of our elected members in their committees and constituencies can get lost amid the spin and party-political point scoring that make for a spicier headline. We are always grateful when a particular speech or speaker brings us back to the profound purpose of this institution.

We had an example of that in the Health and Sport Committee on Tuesday, when witnesses round the table discussed services for children and young people. Denisha Killoh from Who Cares? Scotland spoke with honesty and clarity about the realities of being a care-experienced young person.

In her final plea to the committee, she asked it to recognise that
“the dark reality is that the system is built around loss, rather than love … To make a serious change, we need to start making the care system about love”.

As a society, we ask the women and men whom we elect to represent us to take on the enormous challenge of sifting and assessing the evidence and putting in place policies that will tackle complex and deepening problems of inequality, mental unwellness, precarious employment and environmental degradation, to the benefit of everyone. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Denisha Killoh’s wise proposal were taken up more widely, so that not just the vital job of enabling children and young people in care to flourish but all public policy was approached in a spirit of kindness, generosity and love?

Have a good summer, everyone.


A New Word and Some Old Favourites

A new word—or a very old one?

A Googlewhack is a contest for finding a Google search query consisting of exactly two words without quotation marks that returns exactly one hit. A Googlewhack must consist of two actual words found in a dictionary. Every so often, when we are reporting committee or plenary business, we come across a word that has not appeared in the Official Report before, which is perhaps our equivalent of a Googlewhack.

At the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee meeting on Tuesday, when the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill was under discussion, Dr Tom Russon laid out some potential scenarios that might require changes to the interim targets but stressed: “These are necessarily entirely hypothetical examples, in that I am foreguessing the future, the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and the will of ministers, all of which I should not be foreguessing.”

After a bit of research, we discovered that foreguess was not a new fusion word made up of “forecast” and “guess” but rather a very old word. The 1913 edition of Webster’s English dictionary defines it as “to conjecture”, as does Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary of 1755. Other definitions include “to guess beforehand” and “to assume”.

We wouldn’t want to foreguess when it might come up again.

If music be the food of love, play on …

On Wednesday, the chamber hosted Adam Tomkins’s members’ business debate on music tourism in Glasgow. In the week when the O2 ABC in the centre of Glasgow was ravaged by the fire that devastated the neighbouring Glasgow School of Art, it was inevitable that MSPs would pay tribute to the venue. Professor Tomkins noted: “People could always get close to the stage and, because of the acoustics in the room, bands could turn it up and up without compromising the sound quality. I have seen countless great gigs in that venue, including by some of my favourite bands, the Felice Brothers, Jason Isbell and Drive-By Truckers among them.”

Sandra White echoed those sentiments, calling the ABC a “much-loved and historical place”, observing that it has been, at various times, a circus, an ice rink and a cinema.

In a trip down memory lane, Tom Arthur revealed that his first gig was Def Leppard at the SECC, Brian Whittle disclosed that his first gig was Saxon, in 1980, and Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, remembered seeing The Alarm at the Barrowlands.

Pauline McNeill spoke for many concert-goers when she said, “As a Glasgow citizen, I think that it is great that we can attend a concert by Beyoncé or whoever our favourite artist is and be home in half an hour for tea and toast.”

Assistance with funeral expenses

Although the Parliament passed the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 earlier this year, many of the details of the individual types of assistance, such as eligibility rules and payment levels, will be set out in regulations. On Thursday, the Social Security Committee took evidence on funeral expense assistance, which will be among the first devolved benefits to be introduced.

It emerged that, although the new Scottish system will be largely similar to the existing UK-wide one, there will be significant differences. For example, most people who are entitled will receive a payment of £700, which is in line with the UK scheme but, as Paul Cuthell of the National Association of Funeral Directors pointed out, “the £700 figure has remained static since 2003.”

The Scottish scheme will begin to address that by annual uprating in line with inflation, although there were calls for the amount to be increased substantially to cover the minimum cost of a funeral. As Paul Stevenson of the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors said, “£700 is not nearly enough for all the funeral director’s arrangements—the hearse, the coffin and the trained, professional staff.