Laws, Lice and Little Dorrit?

The Full Weight of the Law

The wheels of justice are said to turn slowly, but the wheels of Scotland’s law making have geared up to a more turbocharged pace as the Government seeks to pass a bill many times faster than under the typical legislative timetable.

Legal expert Dr Tobias Lock dashed between two committees in one morning this week to brief members on the scale of their task in scrutinising the implications of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

So many laws and regulations are affected by Brexit that Dr Lock found them almost easier to weigh than to count. There are “tonnes of statutory instruments”, he told members: “There are thousands of them.” From that daunting total, members of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee picked out several familiar examples including regulations covering workers’ rights to annual leave.

Less familiar to the public will be the loss to all UK citizens of the right to claim Francovich damages, which people in all EU member states gained after a 1991 case in which 34 Italian workers won damages of 253,000,000 Lira from their Government.

By next week’s Editor’s Picks, we’ll be within four days of the bill’s third and final stage.


Wrasse to the Rescue

On Wednesday, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee held the first session of its inquiry into salmon farming in Scotland. Members heard from a number of experts on a wide range of issues including the value of the industry to the Scottish economy and how it might be affected by Brexit.

The committee took a close interest in fish health issues, asking questions about the use of “cleaner fish” such as wrasse and lumpsucker to deal with the problem of sea lice and the extent of antibiotic use in salmon farming in Scotland.



A wealth of facts were brought to light—did you know that the density of farmed salmon is 15kg per cubic metre?—but perhaps the issue of most interest to consumers is whether farmed salmon is as good as the wild variety. In the opinion of economist Steve Westbrook, the fat in Scottish farmed salmon “makes it perfect for frying, baking and so on, while I find the wild fish drier”—although, as he observed, it is a matter of taste!

Hard Times for Holyrood?

Had he been observing Tuesday’s business in the chamber from the reporters’ booth, Charles Dickens would have been amused to hear Derek Mackay likened to not one but three of his creations. Graham Simpson compared the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to Mr Micawber and Ebenezer Scrooge, Bruce Crawford said that he was benevolence personified, like Samuel Pickwick, and Murdo Fraser echoed the Micawber comparison.

Dickens was a parliamentary reporter at Westminster in the 1830s, where he honed the skills that would contribute to his success as a writer of popular fiction. He has been described as a master of the reporting art and the most celebrated of our predecessors. However, in David Copperfield, which is considered to be somewhat autobiographical, Dickens suggested that he was fairly happy to leave the job to enter the more exciting world of journalism when he had his eponymous hero say,

“I had been writing in the newspapers and elsewhere so prosperously that when my new success was achieved I considered myself reasonably entitled to escape from the dreary debates. One joyful night, therefore, I noted down the music of the parliamentary bagpipes for the last time, and I have never heard it since.”

Readers of the Official Report should be reassured that your trusty reporters at Holyrood are made of sterner stuff than Dickens and that the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates remains music to our ears.


Members’ Puns Leave No Stone Unturned

At Graeme Dey’s members’ business debate on Thursday, members welcomed the establishment of the Scottish Stone Group, which was set up in 2016 to raise awareness of the country’s indigenous stone sector and of the economic and environmental benefits of using domestic stone as a building material.

Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy, acknowledged that the stone industry may not have had the attention that it deserves but said that the stone producers’ expertise gave them a “rock solid foundation” for success. The subject matter invited other puns, with Bill Bowman hoping to “carve out a ‘boulder’ future” for the sector.

Ailsa Craig

However, it was Maurice Corry who cited the most topical and high-profile use of Scottish stone this week: every one of the curling stones that are currently in play at the PyeongChang winter Olympics is crafted from Ailsa Craig granite.

Curling Action

Linguistic teaser

Wednesday was International Mother Language Day, and as part of the Parliament’s EMBRACE network’s programme of activities to mark the day, we devised a special official report quiz on language use in the Parliament. If you haven’t yet done so, why not have a go by clicking below? Good luck!

International Mother Language Day Quiz



International Mother Language Day

As part of the Parliament’s EMBRACE Network’s programme of activities to celebrate International Mother Language Day on 21 February 2018, Editor’s Picks brings you a special quiz on where language meets Scottish politics and, in particular, the use that has been made of mother, and other, languages in the Scottish Parliament, as revealed in the annals of the Official Report.

Feeling confident? Try your luck here!

Thank you language image

Celebrating Heroes and Changes

Suffragette Centenary

On Tuesday in the chamber, Nicola Sturgeon led a debate to mark 100 years of women’s right to vote. The First Minister noted that the gender-balanced Scottish Cabinet meets in St Andrew’s House, which stands on the site of the old Calton jail, where many suffragettes were imprisoned after the first world war. During the debate, many members—notably Joan McAlpine—spoke of the horrendous suffering of those women for the cause.


Alison Johnstone told the story of Mary Church Terrell, who, along with Ida B Wells, was a founder of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which participated in the first suffrage march in Washington DC. Ms Johnstone also highlighted the case of Sophia Duleep Singh, the daughter of a maharajah and the god-daughter of Queen Victoria, who became “a princess with a criminal record” for her involvement in the suffrage movement.

Opposition leader Richard Leonard called for action to address the gender balance of the UK and Scottish Parliaments, noting that, “While we may have a female First Minister, only 45 of our 129 MSPs are women; while we may have a female Prime Minister, just 208 of our 650 MPs are women”. Also taking up the theme of “more to do”, Kezia Dugdale spoke of the #MeToo campaign and bemoaned the introduction of “ladylike” crisps.

As Liz Smith concluded: “We salute the suffragettes, but we recognise that their legacy is not complete. Rightly, there has been much talk in recent weeks about the power of words but, if we are to honour the suffragettes, the power of deeds matters even more.”


The Parliament’s chamber was not the only place to reflect 100 years of change. The purple, white and green flag of the suffragettes also flew in the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee on Tuesday. In the hot seats, four female entrepreneurs and one male spoke of the improvements that have allowed women to make progress in business, including shared parental leave—Leah Hutcheon, who founded the software company Appointedd, praised the difference it had made for her.


Scotland’s increased childcare entitlement was also recognised as a positive change, but members were urged to make it more flexible and give mothers the chance to take it earlier instead of having wait until the child is aged three.

Far greater efforts to influence the ambitions of girls and break down gender stereotypes were also called for, the example being given of a female astronaut urging pupils to reach for the stars.

Sound and Vision

There was high drama at this week’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee meeting as its steely gaze shifted from Brexit to Scotland’s screen sector when it scrutinised the industry perspective on Creative Scotland’s proposals for a new screen unit, which is due to be up and running in April, to support the sector.

Tommy Gormley, assistant director and self-titled “classic wandering Scot”, gave a star turn as the bright lights of committee room 1 shone down. His no-holds-barred approach epitomised the frank exchange of views between the committee and a host of leading figures in the screen sector. In one exchange, he warned, “We have not just missed the boat in this country; we have missed an entire fleet. There has been a cataclysmic failure at every level to deliver. It is a disgrace that the amount of production done in Scotland is catastrophically low compared to that in the UK.

To find out whether the other panellists agreed with his strongly worded views, read the Official Report of the meeting.

If you have a minute, please take the Scottish Parliament Website Survey, to tell us how you use the website and what you’d like from it in the future.





Three routes to improvement

Educational collaboration in the north

On Monday, the Education and Skills Committee ventured north to Peterhead to discuss the education reforms that the Scottish Government is consulting on in preparation for the expected education (Scotland) bill.

Members heard from Maria Walker of Aberdeenshire Council and Laurence Findlay of Moray Council and the northern alliance, which is a collaboration involving eight local authorities in the north of Scotland that seeks to improve the educational and life chances of children and young people.

The committee was told about the vast reach of the alliance, which covers a huge area but represents only a small percentage of the population, and how the challenges experienced across the region have led it to identify new ways of working.

Tackling the diseases of modernity

On Tuesday, as part of its work on the preventative agenda, the Health and Sport Committee heard from experts in substance misuse recovery. The discussion ranged widely, but a recurring theme was the stigma that’s attached to substance misuse despite its being just one of many manifestations of distress in our culture.

Dharmacarini Kuladharini from the Scottish Recovery Consortium spoke passionately about the increase in drug deaths, alcohol consumption, suicide and obesity and said that we have to

ask ourselves the bigger question, which is, ‘How can we look at all that distress in our culture in a much more proactive way?’ … those are the diseases of modernity. Each one is a symptom of a greater malaise.”

A call was made to the committee for people with drug misuse problems to receive the same care and service on their road to recovery as sufferers of any other condition would receive.

Carrots, sticks and tambourines

At this week’s meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, Chris Stark from the Scottish Government introduced “the concepts of carrots, sticks and tambourines” in relation to the Government’s approach to changing the behaviour of individuals and businesses in ways that will help Scotland (and other countries) to meet targets to reduce climate change.

We’re probably all familiar with the image of the donkey owner trying to get his stubborn animal moving by means of the carrot or the stick—the first to tempt the donkey with a reward and the second to urge it forward to avoid punishment. The tambourine is used to attract the donkey’s attention, the idea being that it might then move forward of its own accord. In the context of climate change, Chris Stark said that the tambourine element was about “the feeling of wishing to do something.”

Publishers, pugs and (guinea) pigs

Publish and be … fine

With Twitter, Facebook and blogging platforms aplenty, it seems that anyone can be a publisher these days. The Justice Committee heard about what that means on Tuesday, when it quizzed the Scottish Law Commission on its proposals for reform of the law of defamation. Lord Pentland, the commission’s chairman, pointed out that the current law relies on “concepts that were developed perhaps more than 100 years ago, when publication meant something far more serious, substantial and difficult to achieve”. You can read about the notice and take-down procedure, the Reynolds defence and the proposed statutory defence of publication in the public interest, among other things, in the Official Report.

Shock horror stories

Let us be under no illusion: electric shock collars are harmful and must be banned.” So said Conservative MSP Maurice Golden, opening his members’ business debate on the subject on Thursday. He was referring to the widely available electronic collars that can be used to administer an electric shock when a dog barks, as a means of altering its behaviour.

Colin Smyth, speaking for Labour in the debate, noted, “The evidence shows that the devices cause distress, anxiety and emotional harm to dogs”, while Finlay Carson (Con) pointed out that “we are now a society that looks far more closely at our relationship with animals”.

Many of those who spoke in the debate have campaigned on the issue—which has been the subject of a public petition in the Parliament—and the Scottish Government’s support for a ban on electric shock collars was welcomed, although clarity was sought on the nature of the proposed ban. Drawing a distinction between the sale and the use of electric shock collars, Ben Macpherson (SNP) noted that “the ability to ban the sale of those cruel devices is fully reserved to Westminster.”

Several members declared an interest as dog or cat owners, in which regard Tom Arthur caused some amusement when he said of his own dog: “One does not necessarily think of pugs as dangerous dogs that need shock collars, although given their capacity to follow people around at their feet, they can be a trip hazard.”

Magic roundabout

On Wednesday, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee received one of its periodic updates on major transport infrastructure projects from Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work.

The committee was particularly interested in when the Aberdeen western peripheral route will be completed and whether the liquidation of Carillion, one of the three contractors involved in the consortium responsible for the project, will have any impact on the project’s delivery. Keith Brown reassured the committee that there was “nothing in the Carillion announcement that means that there should be a delay to the project”.

Other topics that members’ questions covered included Prestwick airport, high-speed rail, the completion of the M8, M73 and M74 project, and the dualling of the A9 and the A96. In relation to the section of the A9 between Birnam and Dunkeld, it was mentioned that a “co-creative process” was being used to work with the local community to develop a preferred option. The cabinet secretary noted that the Children’s Parliament had come up with the suggestion of “an egg-shaped roundabout with a guinea pig farm in the centre.”


Wildlife crime, automation and Burns the brand

Seeing is Adam and Eve-ing

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” came up at this week’s meeting of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, during a discussion about covert video surveillance as a method of detecting wildlife crime. The term refers to the principle in law that evidence obtained by illegal means is inadmissible in court. However, Laura Buchan from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service told the committee that the way in which COPFS applies the law

“is very much in line with the case law of Lawrie v Muir. In that case, the full bench concluded that an irregularity in the obtaining of evidence does not necessarily mean that the evidence is inadmissible.”

Nevertheless, Detective Chief Superintendent Scott from Police Scotland acknowledged that while

“More cameras might mean more evidence … it feels like a public debate about privacy is required”,

and he posed the interesting conundrum:

“Does somebody who is walking in a remote area have an expectation of privacy, or does the fact that they are out in the open and exposed to being seen by anybody mean that they have no expectation of privacy?”


The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee is continuing its inquiry into Scotland’s economic performance since 2007. During an interesting discussion on Tuesday, one issue that arose was the automation of work due to rapid developments in technology, including robotics. It’s often assumed that this will lead to more unemployment, but Michael Jacobs from the Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on economic justice expressed a different view, pointing out:

“Robots have only just learned to catch a ball. The physical dexterity of robots is still really limited. They can spray paint cars, but they cannot do most human actions.”

He added:

“We simply do not have machines that can do anything to do with planning, decision making, emotional intelligence, caring or creativity.”

Arguing that machines are very expensive and asking, therefore, who will invest in automation, he suggested that there is unlikely to be mass unemployment and that, in any case, there will be many more new jobs both in technology itself and in other fields.

Sausage Supper

On Wednesday in the chamber, as often happens in the second half of January, members turned their attention to Robert Burns, with a debate on the economic potential of the great man. Arguing that

“there is no contradiction between honouring Burns as an artist and recognising his commercial worth”,

Joan McAlpine set out some of the economic benefits, such as tourist visits to sites in Ayrshire and Dumfries, the academic work done at the centre for Robert Burns studies at the University of Glasgow, and the spike in haggis and whisky sales in the Burns supper season. She concluded by saying that

“by investing in his cultural legacy, we … enrich our country and the prosperity of the Scottish people, who keep his immortal memory alive.”

Some members found time in their speeches for the poetry of Burns. Willie Coffey wondered how well Burns translates into Japanese:

“Some of the translations might explain why our Japanese friends are a little bemused at times—we know that when we see them translated back into English. Apparently, the immortal lines from ‘Address to a Haggis’

‘Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!’

have emerged as

‘Good luck to your honest friendly face,
Great King of the sausages.’”

The longest passage of verse, though, came from the member for Ayr, John Scott, who stopped reciting “Tam o’ Shanter” only once he had achieved his goal of telling members about

“(Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses.)”