Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:31 pm on 16th June 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 2:31 pm, 16th June 1999

Thank you, Sir David. I will not pursue the issue of who is where at any given time, because many games can be played with it, as you and I well know from our experiences in other places.

This is my maiden speech in this assembly. I am not sure how many times one is allowed to make a maiden speech in a lifetime, but here I go again. In this chamber, at least, I cannot be called a retread, as I was, rather ungraciously, in 1987, when I rematerialised as the member of Parliament for Moray. To continue the analogy of being a retread, after some 17 years as part of the Scottish minority at Westminster, I decided that I wanted to come home because I genuinely believed that there was an opportunity for new direction, new steering and even new highways.

Introducing the legislative programme, the First Minister referred to his statement as starting the line-up. He may be in pole position in the race but, as many drivers can verify, that does not guarantee that a chequered flag will come down on his behalf at the end of the race.

The First Minister and I learned some of our political interests at the turbulent chamber known as Glasgow University Union; I know that other members have survived that initiation. The difference, however, between the First Minister and myself-and I say, "Vive la différence"-is that he sees this assembly as the completion of what was described as the unfinished business of the much-respected John Smith. I see this assembly as only the beginning of that unfinished business. The terminal point of this organisation will be chosen by the voters of Scotland in the democratic process that is offered to them by us.

As an unashamed nationalist, I have never hidden my belief in independence, and I will continue to argue for the right of Scotland to be an independent nation within the community of the world.

For various personal reasons, I have not been able to be present in this chamber as much as I would have liked during the past weeks. However, I have watched, I have listened and I have read the reports. Sadly, what has taken place has not been particularly edifying. I do not know whether summer charm schools or makeovers will make any difference to elected members, including myself-perhaps my husband will want to comment on that. What I have gleaned from watching the deliberations of this Parliament is that the electors, the people, the voters, the taxpayers and the commentators have been disappointed with what we have done so far.

The First Minister said this morning that this programme was another milestone. He then proceeded down what seemed to be a dead end. He referred to "exceptional and limited circumstances where it is sensible and proper that the Westminster Parliament legislates in devolved areas of responsibility."

I wonder whether anyone from the rather empty benches of the Executive could tell me what those exceptional and limited circumstances are. Who will define those circumstances? Will it be the 129 of us who have been elected to this assembly, or will it happen by the recall of Peter Mandelson to No 10? That is one of the fundamental issues which we must address.

The legislative programme will impact on my constituency of Moray in a number of ways. I have the pleasure of being the MP who represents the area that produces over 50 per cent of Scotch whisky. It is very tempting sometimes to name all my distilleries, but I will spare members that ordeal this afternoon. Everyone knows, however, that the whisky industry is hugely important to Speyside. It is responsible for many jobs-12,000 directly and 60,000 indirectly-and pays a great deal of money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a strategic industry that is listed among the top five UK industries. Over the years I have campaigned seriously for whisky industry taxation to be equalised with that of the beer and wine industries. Now the fuel escalator will have an adverse effect on the whisky industry-French cognac producers will escape that problem.

In this week's Sunday Herald, Mr McLeish said:

"In the spirit of the new politics, the parliament will listen to the industry, learn and champion its wider concerns in relation to taxation and other issues."

Yesterday, I met representatives of the Treasury, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that the Scottish Parliament could lobby on behalf of the Scotch whisky industry as much as it wanted, but taxation is a reserved matter.

Is that what was meant by the First Minister's comments this morning? Do we, as a Parliament, agree that we can only eavesdrop, or are we prepared to go centre stage and take an industry such as the Scotch whisky industry on board and ensure that the money that it brings to our economy and the service that it provides are regarded as fundamental to this assembly?

The fishing industry was not mentioned this morning. My honourable friend-I am sorry, I keep using these Westminster phrases-Mr Salmond, Alex as we know him, knows only too well, as do many of us, the misfortunes of the Scottish fishing industry. Many of us have had to attend the funerals and memorial services of our men lost at sea. In particular, I recall the loss several years ago of the Premier, from Lossiemouth, where a mother and father lost three sons, just before Christmas. Anyone who has been to a memorial service or a funeral for one lost at sea, knows full well how much passion is given to the singing of the hymn:

"O hear us when we cry to thee,

For those in peril on the sea."

Where will the Parliament stand on the impact on the fishing industry of legislation introduced by Europe? Will the First Minister or his deputy argue at the top table about the significance of the fishing industry to our rural economy and to the economy as a whole? Or will we in this Parliament be eavesdropping on decisions that will impact on the lives and the livelihoods of so many families?

The First Minister made no reference in his statement to freedom of information. We have spoken about an inclusive Parliament, which will reach out to people, involving voluntary and statutory organisations alike in the decisions that we reach. There should be involvement of the people, for the people and by the people. Nothing was said about freedom of information, yet Scotland has its own legal system. If we talk about an inclusive Parliament, it is fundamental that we should mention the right to freedom of information. Are we expected not just to eavesdrop, but to tap in to legislation from Westminster?

We have an amazing responsibility, 129 of us, elected in various ways to the first Parliament for 300 years. It is a challenge that we must not take lightly; all of us have to work extremely hard. I did not come here to wreck-a word used by the First Minister in his speech-the Parliament. I agree that there will be vigorous debate, but it should be healthy debate. As details of the programme are eventually spelled out, consultation and all, I will continue to advocate that the Parliament should be in the van of forward thinking, if we as individuals take on that responsibility. I shall not be dragged along on the coat tails of an outdated Victorian system. The people of Scotland are not pawns; I am not here to be a pawn of any political system. I came here to work for Scotland and to take Scotland forward to full independence and the rights that she deserves in the international community.