Scots Language Awards 2019

On Friday 27 September, Glesga’s Mitchell Theatre will pley host tae the first ivver Scots Language Awards. The chairity, Hands Up For Trad, which has heidit up the weel-kent Scots Trad Music Awards fae 2003, is ahint the new event, which has the aim o forderin the profile o Scots tae the public an media.

The ten caitegories o award include Scots Media Person o the Year, Scots Schuil o the Year an Scots Bairns’ Book o the Year alangside ane lifetime achievement award.

The Official Report at the Scots Pairlament regularly warks in aw three o Scotland’s official leids o English, Scots an Gaelic.

We are gey pleased that ane o oor ain Official Reporters, Ashley Douglas, has been nominatit in the category o Scots Media Person o the Year, which ye can read mair anent here.

Forby warkin fur the Official Report in the Scots Pairlament, Ashley does a hantle o wark wi the Scots leid. Maist recently, she was the owersetter on a letter-scrievin projeck atween the Basque scriever, Iban Zaldua, an the Scots scriever, James Robertson, as weel as contributin tae the National Library o Scotland’s ‘Wee Windaes’ projeck, which forders the braw scrievit history o the leid.

Ye can read mair anent the awards an aw the nominees, forby cast yer votes, here.


The race to the finish line

With the summer recess fast approaching, the Parliament is going at full tilt to meet its legislative timetable. Last week, members sat late two nights in a row as part of a mammoth stage 3 on the Planning (Scotland) Bill that began at 3 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon and ended at half past 5 on Thursday afternoon, when Kevin Stewart, the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, concluded the debate on the motion that the bill be passed with the words:

“It is time to roll our sleeves up, grasp the opportunity and work hard, together with communities, to deliver great places.”

Shortly afterwards, the motion was agreed to by 78 votes to 26 and the bill was passed.

Planning (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 (18 June 2019)

Planning (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 (19 June 2019)

Planning (Scotland) Bill Stage 3 (20 June 2019)

Meanwhile, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee continued its epic consideration of the Transport (Scotland) Bill at stage 2, again starting its Wednesday morning meeting at 8 o’clock, such was the number of amendments that it had to get through. Among those that were agreed to were John Finnie’s on the proposed workplace parking levy, on which members of the committee remain deeply divided along party lines. Several members indicated that they would bring their amendments back at stage 3, in the autumn, when the bill will be considered by the whole Parliament. The final stage 2 meeting, which is sure to be another lengthy affair, takes place on Wednesday.

Another legislative milestone was reached on Thursday morning, when the Equalities and Human Rights Committee dealt with the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill at stage 2. Part of the stage 2 process involves each section of a bill and its “long title”—the wording at the start of a bill that explains its purpose(s)—being agreed to individually, regardless of whether it has or has not been amended. Usually, this is a mere formality. However, in this case, Conservative members of the committee Annie Wells and Oliver Mundell recorded their dissatisfaction with both section 1 and the long title of the bill.

Among those committees not looking at legislation, the Finance and Constitution Committee held an interesting session on internal markets and how Brexit might affect the UK’s internal market, in which it transpired that the implications of the cassis de Dijon judgment, rather than being confined to partakers of fruit liqueurs, go far wider than might have been imagined.

Members and staff face one more late finish on Tuesday evening, to complete stage 3 of the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, before business ends for the summer with First Minister’s question time at lunch time on Thursday. That’s not quite it for the summer, though—on Saturday, the Queen will address the chamber to mark 20 years of the Scottish Parliament and there will be a special series of birthday events for the public.

The 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide

Every Tuesday afternoon, the Parliament’s business opens with time for reflection, when an invited speaker shares a perspective, usually on an issue of faith. Last Tuesday, time for reflection was led by the Reverend Lesley Bilinda, vicar of St Andrew’s church, Fulham Fields, who addressed the chamber on the theme of avoiding polarisation and division by treating one another with dignity and respect. She illustrated her argument by reference to the Rwandan genocide, of which she had first-hand experience. As she explained, when the genocide began in April 1994, she had been living in Rwanda for five years and was married to a Rwandan Anglican priest, who was a Tutsi.

She began by mentioning that she had recently watched the Parliament’s television channel because she had been told that there was to be an item on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. She was referring to Iain Gray’s members’ business debate on the subject, which was held back in May. In opening that debate, Mr Gray described how around 1 million people were slaughtered in a 100-day period. He went on to recount his visiting the country shortly afterwards as an Oxfam employee and how haunting it was to find

“a country empty of its people—one part dead and the rest having fled.”

He said that he burned with shame that his country

“failed to act to save those lives”,

and his message matched that of the Rev Lesley Bilinda:

“The final lesson is that genocide ends with machetes and murder but that is not how it begins; it begins with the words of hate.”

You can read these powerful speeches in the Official Report, or watch them being delivered on the Parliament’s TV channel, at the links below:

The Rev Lesley Bilinda’s time for reflection address (Official Report, 11 June 2019)

The Rev Lesley Bilinda’s address on Scottish Parliament TV

Iain Gray’s speech on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide (Official Report, 2 May 2019)

Iain Gray’s speech on Scottish Parliament TV

Legislative wheels in motion

In the chamber last week, two bills reached stage 3, which is the final stage at which proposed legislation can be amended in the Scottish Parliament. Following the consideration of amendments, a debate is held on a motion that the bill in question be passed.

On Wednesday afternoon, after being amended in a number of ways, the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, which will set up a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland, went on to be passed, with the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, declaring it

“a momentous day for the south of Scotland, which will usher in a new era for Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders”.

Stage 3 proceedings on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill

The Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill was handled slightly differently, with the process of considering stage 3 amendments to it being completed on Thursday afternoon, but the debate on the motion to pass the bill not taking place until this week.

Stage 3 proceedings on the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill

For those with an interest in learning more about how the legislative process works, the Parliament has a number of resources:

On Thursday morning, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee held a fascinating evidence session with the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, and Anne Marie Hicks from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill prior to the bill’s stage 2 consideration.

In his opening statement, the Lord Advocate told the committee:

“If the bill is passed, I intend to issue Lord Advocate’s guidelines to the chief constable of Police Scotland on the investigation and reporting of allegations of assaults by parents on children. Those guidelines on prosecutorial policy will support a proportionate and appropriate response to the individual circumstances of particular cases. When appropriate, that response may include the use of informal response by the police, recorded police warnings, diversion and other alternatives to prosecution. At the same time, prosecution will be enabled when that is properly justified by reference to the circumstances of the individual case. The approach will be informed by our responsibility to protect children from harm and by our consideration of the best interests of the child.”

A number of interesting exchanges ensued, including the Lord Advocate’s robust response to the suggestion that the bill had the potential

to criminalise loving and caring parents who use a smack on the back of the hand or the bottom, or a light tap”.


The Workplace Parking Levy

A hot political topic in Parliament at the moment is the workplace parking levy. As part of the budget process back in February, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, Derek Mackay, announced that the Scottish Government would support Green amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill to give local authorities the power to levy an annual charge on workplace car parks. As the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee had already completed its stage 1 consideration of the bill—which, as introduced, contained no provisions dealing with workplace parking, so the subject did not form part of the stage 1 scrutiny process—the committee decided to hold evidence sessions on the topic prior to the stage 2 amendment process.

Two weeks ago, the committee took evidence via videoconference from Nottingham City Council, which introduced a workplace parking levy in 2012—English and Welsh local authorities already have the power to do so—as well as hearing from representatives of Scottish local authorities. Among the issues that the witnesses were questioned on was, if a WPL was such a good idea, why only one English local authority had implemented one. Professor Stephen Ison of Loughborough University, who has carried out research on the scheme in Nottingham, admitted that he was

“perplexed about why the scheme has not been copied.”

At last week’s meeting of the REC Committee, Sue Flack, representing Transform Scotland, who worked on the development of the levy in Nottingham, revealed that a number of English councils, including those in Reading, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge, had started preparing to introduce a WPL.

Labour’s Colin Smyth was particularly concerned about constituents of his in the south of Scotland who drive to Edinburgh paying a levy to a council whose use of the funds would not benefit transport in their area. The response of Stuart Douglas of Paths for All was that

“It is the cities that have to deal with the congestion and pollution that are caused by commuters driving in”.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee had heard from a panel of business and union representatives, who were concerned about the impacts of the approach proposed in John Finnie’s amendments and sceptical about its benefits. Helen Martin of the Scottish Trades Union Congress explained her organisation’s opposition:

“We are not in favour of the levy, primarily because it could fall heavily on low-paid workers and because it does not fit well with other elements of the bill.”

If you’d like to find out more about the workplace parking levy, there’s an informative Scottish Parliament information centre Spotlight on the subject. The REC Committee begins its stage 2 consideration of the Transport (Scotland) Bill on Wednesday.


Body Image, Climate Emergency, Empty Homes and Local Commercial Radio

After time for reflection, Tuesday’s business in the chamber began with a topical question from Jamie Greene about the recent finding that a third of adults in Scotland are anxious about their body image. Clare Haughey, the Minister for Mental Health, informed members that one of the Government’s actions in the area was the setting up of an advisory group on healthy body image for young people that would make recommendations after carrying out a six-month review.

Topical question time was followed by a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, on Scotland’s response to the global climate emergency. The statement came in the wake of the advice that the Scottish Government received earlier in the month from the UK Committee on Climate Change, which was itself a response to last year’s warning by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world needs to act now because, by 2030, it will be too late to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The cabinet secretary took questions on a wide variety of areas, including one from Stewart Stevenson on Scottish participation in international research

“to identify breeding changes for bovines that should, ultimately, reduce their methane emissions while protecting their meat yield”.

On Wednesday, the Local Government and Communities Committee began its inquiry into empty homes in Scotland by taking evidence from the Scottish empty homes partnership and Rural Housing Scotland. Andy Wightman asked about the council tax levy, whereby owners of homes that have been empty for more than 12 months are charged 200 per cent. Other subjects that were covered included the question of why there are more empty homes in rural areas and the extent to which compulsory purchase is used.

On Thursday morning, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee held an interesting session on local commercial radio. The committee heard first from a panel from Ofcom, whose decision last year to amend the relevant guidelines to provide greater flexibility for media companies in the area sparked questions from members who were concerned about the potential loss of local content.

Among the many issues that were addressed by the second panel, which comprised representatives of Bauer Media and D C Thomson, was the expansion of FM, which Tavish Scott asked about, George Adam’s argument that

“DAB is the Betamax of radio formats”,

and the suggestion from Ross Greer that greater deregulation of commercial radio disadvantages small local stations and benefits the larger players.

Twenty years of the Scottish Parliament

Twenty years ago, on 12 May 1999, the temporary clerk, a certain Mr Paul Grice, opened the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament established under the Scotland Act 1998. Once all members had taken the oath or made a solemn affirmation, Dr Winnie Ewing uttered the immortal words:

the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.”

She went on to set out her hopes for the Parliament:

“The first is that we try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and say goodbye to the badgering and backbiting that one associates with Westminster.

Secondly, in the House of Commons, I found that there was a Speaker’s tradition of being fair to minorities. I am an expert in being a minority—I was alone in the House of Commons for three years and alone in the European Parliament for 19 years—but we are all minorities now, and I hope that the Presiding Officer, whoever that may be, will be fair to each and every one of us.

My next hope is that this Parliament, by its mere existence, will create better relations with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I believe that to be in the hearts of the peoples of all of those countries.

My last practical hope is that everyone who was born in Scotland, some of whom, like me, could not help it, and everyone who chose Scotland as their country, will live in harmony together, enjoying our cultures but remaining loyal to their own.”

On the following day, 13 May 1999, the Parliament selected its nominee for appointment as the First Minister. There were four candidates: Dennis Canavan, Donald Dewar, David McLetchie and Alex Salmond. In speaking in support of his candidacy, Donald Dewar said:

All my political life, I have worked with others to achieve this Parliament. Many of my allies and many colleagues in that cause are here today.

I am proud of what we have done, and I am proud of what Scotland has done. Scotland’s Parliament is no longer a political pamphlet, a campaign trail or a waving flag. It is here; it is real.”

Following his selection, Mr Dewar thanked his colleagues for their support and offered this observation:

“We in this place have a particular role. This must be a Parliament of Scotland’s people. We must look beyond the walls of this place to the people of Scotland. I pledge that I will lead a Government that will listen and respond to what the people of Scotland tell us. Co-operation is always possible where there are common aims and values, even though there may be great and dividing differences in other areas. I want to harness that potential good will, not just on behalf of this Parliament and those who have the privilege of serving in it, but on behalf of the people of Scotland.”

Here’s to the next 20 years of the Parliament fulfilling that role!

Brexit updates and subject choices at secondary school

On Wednesday afternoon in the chamber, all eyes were on the First Minister, as she made a statement on the implications for Scotland of recent Brexit developments.

On the issue of when she thought that people in Scotland should be offered a new choice on independence, she had this to say:

“To rush into an immediate decision before a Brexit path has been determined would not allow an informed choice to be made. However, if we are to safeguard Scotland’s interests, we cannot wait indefinitely. That is why I consider that a choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation should be offered later in the lifetime of this Parliament.”

She set out the steps that the Government now intends to take, including the introduction of legislation

“to set the rules for any referendum that is, now or in the future, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament”,

which the Government aims to have on the statute book

“by the end of this year.”

In committee considerations, too, Brexit was prominent, with the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee focusing on the implications for the waste and chemicals sectors; the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee receiving an update from the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, on various agriculture and fisheries matters; and the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee hearing from the Government’s Michael Russell on the article 50 withdrawal negotiations.

On Wednesday morning, the Education and Skills Committee held its second session in its subject choices inquiry. Some of the evidence that was presented on the reduction in parts of Scotland in the number of subjects that pupils can study at secondary 4 level was cited by Jackson Carlaw at Thursday’s First Minister’s question time, who set it in the context of Reform Scotland’s report, “National 4 and 5s: The accidental attainment gap”. The First Minister responded by pointing out that the senior phase in school does not consist only of S4 and highlighting statistics that show improved performance at level 5 and above. You can read the exchange in full here.

Twitter facilitates Divonne inspiration

Revoking article 50 was the subject of a topical Green Party-led debate in the chamber last Wednesday afternoon, in which the Parliament accepted amendments to Patrick Harvie’s motion from the SNP and Labour, while on Thursday morning, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee took evidence on a specific aspect of the article 50 debate—that of international agreements. The wide-ranging discussion that ensued, which you can read in full here, is a good illustration of the fact that reporting parliamentary committees can involve a fair bit of research.

Part of the process of producing a substantially verbatim report of what is said in such circumstances involves conveying the knowledge of the assembled experts—in this case, David Henig, Dmitry Grozoubinski and Professor Alan Winters. As numerous treaties, regulations and conventions can be mentioned, it’s important to correctly identify and keep track of exactly what is being referred to, particularly when shorthand can be used and there is scope for ambiguity. As reporters, we need to know whether “the partnership” is a reference to, say, the transatlantic trade and investment partnership or the trans-Pacific partnership. When someone says “DG1”, we need to look up which directorate-general of the EU they are referring to.

In most cases, a combination of an understanding of the context and a spot of googling throws light on the situation but, occasionally—when, for example, a witness drops an obscure term of art rapidly into the discussion, recalls one fact rather than another in the heat of the moment or is simply inaudible—it’s necessary to go straight to the horse’s mouth, as it were. That happened at this meeting when the subject of e-commerce came up and Dmitry Grozoubinski mentioned a place in France near the border with Switzerland where people in Geneva get their Amazon parcels sent to. To several pairs of ears, the town in question sounded like “Yverdon-les-Bois”, but research on Google Maps showed that the likely candidate—Yverdon-les-Bains—was in Switzerland, suggesting that it couldn’t have been the place that Mr Grozoubinski had in mind.

How to solve the problem? A quick Twitter exchange, in which Mr Grozoubinski clarified that he had been thinking of Divonne-les-Bains, so that’s what appeared in the Official Report.