Emergency Services Staff

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:39 pm on 4th September 2002.

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Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 5:39 pm, 4th September 2002

I want to follow other members and state my gratitude to Karen Gillon for putting this subject before Parliament. As legislators, we must realise that there is no quick fix to this problem. Paul Martin mentioned one or two legal remedies that might be sought, and I hope that the minister will comment on those suggestions.

The Parliament must create a framework of social, legal and other policies that might make it easier to change attitudes or behaviour. That is what we are trying to do. One or two other people have referred to the fact that this is not just a problem of firefighters, bus drivers or ambulance men; it is not even about a specific form of public disorder. It is a whole attitude towards or lack of social responsibility, and that cannot be changed overnight.

On the other hand, the Parliament provides the forum in which we discuss how we might tackle the matter. I add my remarks to those of Angus MacKay. He and I take the same approach to what is happening in Edinburgh. Both of us take a huge pride in the city we represent and we are horrified that there are areas in the city where the fire service cannot go without a police escort. That is horrendous in social terms. It is also poor quality in operational terms when we know that the police do not have extra people lying around to accompany a fire truck. It is a waste of resources and money. I will keep my remarks short. We all share a sense of horror and a sense of urgency. We must start tackling the situation.

I regret to say that, in this instance, I disagree with something that the Executive has already decided, and that is to pack in public service broadcasting. I do not say that because I still have a family interest in that trade, but there is a role for the attitude-changing mechanism of television. If we know that children behave badly because of what influences them on television and in video games, then for goodness' sake, the good guys can start influencing them as well. If we think back 20 years to the anti-AIDS campaign that was run on television and in the mass media, we recognise that awareness can be raised quickly and we can do something to change attitudes. We will have to do that quickly.

I ask the minister to consider public service broadcasting. We cannot expect police and fire officers to visit every school in Scotland to start undoing the neglect of today's parents and grandparents in social education. I am part of the me generation and we are to blame in that we have not instilled in our children an understanding of the respect that is carried merely by being a public service worker. We have told them nonsense about having to earn respect. Nonsense! If someone is a firefighter or an ambulance man, they have already earned respect. Children have to learn the difference.

I did not mean to lecture too much, but it is off my chest now. We can hardly sit here and pontificate about how much we value public service workers, particularly firefighters, without saying—as Angus MacKay said—that we should consider how we prove that we value them through how we, as a society, reward them. I certainly believe that the Fire Brigades Union should be supported by the Parliament in calling for an independent inquiry into the worth of firefighters and their wage levels. We could do that as a Parliament. That is not going to upset anyone in London, is it?

As well as that, one or two of the suggestions that Margaret Smith made should be taken on board. They were practical remedies and I am happy to give them my support.