Sport (Young People)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:15 am on 13 December 2007.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 9:15, 13 December 2007

Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1018, in the name of Ross Finnie, on sport and young people.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Health and well-being are firmly on Scotland's national agenda. The potential for an uplift in participation in sport has never been greater. We have the prospect of the London Olympics, which are scheduled for 2012, and the Commonwealth games are coming to Glasgow in 2014.

In such circumstances, one might have thought that Scotland's national agency for sport—sportscotland—would be looking forward to playing a crucial role in developing the country's well-being and sporting prowess. Not so. Instead, sportscotland is in limbo, its future threatened by the Scottish National Party Government's categorical manifesto commitment to "abolish sportscotland".

The abolition process is already under way, but in a most unusual and unsatisfactory manner. The Government has declined to publish a consultation document, which would have provided a critique of sportscotland's performance, set out the Government's case for abolition, posited its preferred position and invited comment. Instead, the Minister for Communities and Sport and his civil servants are discussing with a whole range of sporting bodies we know not what—except for soliciting support to abolish sportscotland.

In his interview with the Sunday Herald on 30 September, the Minister for Communities and Sport admitted:

"Maybe the word 'review' isn't the most appropriate one, because the commitment in our manifesto was pretty clear".

I say to the minister that that is not consultation as we know it, and it is a shoddy way to treat sportscotland and its dedicated staff.

The objectives of sportscotland, as set out in its royal charter, include:

"(a) fostering, supporting and encouraging the development of sport and physical recreation among the public at large in Scotland;

(b) the achievement of excellence in sport and physical recreation; and

(c) the provision of facilities" to secure those aims.

Let us examine more closely sportscotland's national functions. First, the royal charter is clear that sportscotland's role is to advise Government on policy and operational issues, on the impact of any proposed legislation, on local sports matters and on technical sport development issues. There is nothing in its constitution about functions of setting policy or targets. That is a crucial point. The only reason that the SNP proffers for abolishing sportscotland is to be found in its manifesto, which I quote:

"national policy and targets will become a ministerial responsibility, advised by sports governing bodies and other organisations involved in physical recreation."

I have news for the SNP Government: that is precisely what happens at present; only the advice is co-ordinated through sportscotland. No other reason is given by the Government for the proposed abolition, and that reason does not stand up to elementary scrutiny.

Secondly, a co-ordination role is vital to securing the national delivery of any Government's sports policy and strategy. Co-ordinating, supporting and bringing together the diverse range of individuals and bodies that run sport can only be achieved effectively at a national level. Specialist sports development expertise needs to be held at a national level. There is a clear need to set standards for sport at a national level. Liberal Democrats believe that sportscotland is uniquely placed to deliver that co-ordinating role.

Chris Robison, policy director of the Scottish Sports Association, which represents some 50 governing bodies, had this to say—

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

That is 50 out of 70, which is not bad.

He said:

"our governing bodies believe the role of sportscotland is fairly clear; as an organisation it adds value, and some of the functions it provides are absolutely essential to our members."

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I seek clarification. I am not clear from Ross Finnie's motion, nor from what he has said so far, whether his view is that sportscotland, as it stands, is the only model that can deliver for sport in Scotland. Does he accept that changes could improve the process?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I have never suggested, nor do I suggest, that any organisation—anywhere at any time—cannot do things better. The minister should not try to mislead us by telling us that the Government is reviewing the matter and is now looking for changes. The SNP's commitment was clear: it wanted to abolish sportscotland.

Sportscotland has a crucial role in co-ordinating how we invest money in sport. It invests some £30 million of Scottish Government capital and revenue resources and around £18.5 million of national lottery funding, in accordance with the legislative and policy directions that it receives. Sportscotland maximises the impact of the totality of that investment by integrating its two funding streams and by targeting the investment in the strategic plans of partners. That integrated approach is crucial, and it enables sportscotland to invest in national bodies, including the Scottish governing bodies. It also enables investment in the active schools network and the Scottish Institute of Sport, which prepares Scotland's best athletes to perform on the world stage.

That integrated approach cannot be achieved by Government, simply because it is the law that an independent organisation must oversee the distribution of lottery funds. Neither can it be achieved by local authorities. Liberal Democrats support the integration of the funding streams and believe that sportscotland has developed the knowledge and expertise to optimise investment in sport. Creating a new independent body to administer lottery funding, as the SNP Government appears to wish to do, would be manifest nonsense.

I finish by quoting from sportscotland's recently published annual review:

"Sport can have a profound effect on people's lives. Whether it's our future athletes being inspired by world class performances or school children becoming more active through our Active Schools Network, we know it has a massive impact and plays a crucial role in improving the nation's health, education and confidence."

Advising, co-ordinating and investing in sport are the roles that sportscotland fulfils. By and large, it fulfils them well. That is why Liberal Democrats believe that sportscotland should be retained. That is why I ask Parliament to support the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament rejects the case for the abolition of sportscotland; notes the importance of grass-roots sport and the opportunities that currently exist to increase sporting participation and enhance sporting performance, particularly among young people, in Scotland as we look forward to the London Olympics of 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games of 2014; recognises that sportscotland has established itself as an effective arms-length body for distributing both Treasury and lottery funding as well as successfully performing important co-ordinating and strategic functions in the development of integrated sporting performance pathways, and therefore calls for sportscotland to be retained.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 9:23, 13 December 2007

This debate affords us the opportunity to emphasise the importance that the Government attributes to the contribution that sport can make to the lives of our young people.

In response to the opening remarks of Ross Finnie, I say that health and well-being is at the top of the political agenda, and it has been—strangely enough—since May, because there is now an SNP Government, and no longer the Lib-Lab pact.

This debate is premature. It would be logical and sensible to have a debate on this subject after the review is complete and the outcome is announced, and that is what my amendment offers Parliament. We cannot freeze sportscotland in time, as the motion attempts to do.

The review of sportscotland is being carried out within the context of our commitment to create a simpler, more effective public sector in Scotland by getting rid of duplication and simplifying structures. The review is examining whether sportscotland's current functions will continue to be necessary and, if so, which organisational arrangements will be most effective in delivering them.

We are committed to improving sport in Scotland, and the needs of sport are central to our decision-making process. That is why all the principal organisations that represent sports interests in Scotland were consulted. That included direct consultation with a number of Scottish governing bodies of sport, and a number of SGB group workshops, led by the Scottish Sports Association, which is the representative organisation for the governing bodies. That enabled all governing bodies to input into the process. In addition, other organisations, such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Institute of Sport, the area institutes of sport and the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland inputted into the review.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

When the minister met those various bodies, did they say that they wanted to abolish sportscotland?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The bodies had a variety of views on the future of sportscotland, ranging from supporting its retention, as some of them do, at one end of the spectrum, to seeking complete change at the other end of the spectrum. There are a range of views on the future of sportscotland, and we are listening to them.

The consultation process was carried out through a combination of written correspondence and face-to-face discussions with key stakeholders. We have the best interests of Scottish sport at heart and have taken a flexible approach to the review of sportscotland. We have focused our consultation on the organisations that really matter in the delivery of sport in Scotland. The feedback from the stakeholders indicated that there is scope for simplifying the current sporting landscape.

I am conscious that the final decision on the future of sportscotland may have an impact on the future of the staff at sportscotland. It is therefore crucial that we put in place the best options for the delivery of sport in Scotland. I intend to announce the outcome of the review early in the new year.

The Scottish Institute of Sport and the area institutes have a proven track record of developing high-performance athletes, and the active schools programme is delivering change at the entrance to the pathways. It is now important to join those elements effectively. I believe that developing local community clubs and activities is the missing link in the pathways structure.

It is crucial for the delivery of sport in Scotland that we do not create a bureaucratic and layered structure. It is therefore incumbent on us to put in place the systems and structures, and the motivational coaches and individuals to enable people to achieve their aspirations and goals and reach their true potential.

As Minister for Communities and Sport, I have had the pleasure of attending many sporting events and witnessing the wide range of opportunities that are available to our young people. I am confident that Scots are passionate about sport and that many people who are not currently involved in sport have much to offer. The 2014 Commonwealth games will provide a tremendous opportunity to stimulate such people to become involved in sport, whether as a participant, an official, a coach or a volunteer.

We are committed to reducing the number of public bodies in Scotland, but I assure members that the needs of sport are central to the review process and the final decisions on the future arrangements.

I assure members that we as a Government are committed to offering more choices and more chances for young people to take part in sport throughout Scotland. We have a framework in place for sport in "Reaching Higher: Building on the Success of Sport 21", and we have a new and dynamic relationship with local authorities, which will allow us to continue to work in partnership to drive forward our priorities.

We will shortly announce a new management structure to oversee the development of our sports policies to deliver a legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth games. We have had a successful outcome from the spending review, which sees increased Government investment in sport.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Will the minister comment on the fact that Glasgow City Council, which will host the Commonwealth games, has explicitly supported the role of sportscotland in the preparation for those games?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

As I said, we have listened to many of the views that have been expressed. We are listening to all the major stakeholders in sport in Scotland and we will take on board their views. We will announce a decision early in the new year. We are listening to the sporting bodies and the experts in Scotland.

What irritates the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats is that they are no longer part of the process because they lost the election in May. We are consulting the experts in sport, not the Liberal Democrats or the Labour Party. They should get over it. They lost the election. The people decided who should be the Government, and it was not the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats.

We are beginning to put in place the building blocks that will enable sport to enhance the quality of young people's lives, aid their educational and social development, and reinforce Scotland's place as a truly sporting nation.

Now is the time to put in place a structure for sport in Scotland that is lean, efficient and sharply focused on delivery. Our sporting structures and bodies need to be fit for purpose, and that is what we will deliver.

I move amendment S3M-1018.2, to leave out from "rejects" to end and insert:

"notes that sportscotland is under review as part of a wider review of the public sector delivery landscape; welcomes the intention to remove any duplication or unnecessary bureaucracy; believes that there should be a parliamentary debate on this matter following the outcome of the review; recognises the important role that sportscotland has played as an effective arms-length body for distributing both Treasury and lottery funding, as well as successfully performing important co-ordinating and strategic functions in the development of integrated sporting performance pathways; further notes the importance of grassroots sport and the opportunities that currently exist to increase participation and enhance sporting performance, in particular those presented by the London Olympics in 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, and in this context believes that it is opportune to consider the effectiveness of current structures to ensure that they best meet the needs of Scottish sport."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 9:29, 13 December 2007

I welcome the opportunity to speak in today's debate about sportscotland. I will come straight to the point and say that the Scottish Conservatives simply do not believe that any case has been made in any quarter that convinces us of the need to abolish sportscotland. I hope that the Scottish Government will not do that, despite the SNP manifesto pledge. Members will be aware that we were complimentary about sportscotland in our manifesto. Since then, I have consulted a wide range of sports organisations in Scotland, which are mostly supportive of the role that sportscotland plays.

The Government says that the Liberal Democrat motion is premature, because the Liberal Democrats have not waited for the results of the Government review. I suppose that the Government has a point, but surely, in that case, it was also premature of the SNP to state in its manifesto that it wished to abolish sportscotland before it had seen the books. The SNP said not that it wanted to review sportscotland, but that it wanted to abolish it. The Conservatives look forward to hearing any positive proposals that the SNP might have to improve sportscotland—hence my amendment—and thereby improve the delivery of sporting opportunities and physical education for young and old in Scotland.

The SNP amendment mentions further debate. We certainly agree that there should be further debate, but we cannot support that amendment because of the SNP's declared intention in its manifesto to execute sportscotland without a fair trial. If the SNP is intent on changing only the name, just as it changed the name of the Executive to the Government, and just as the previous Executive changed the name of the Scottish Arts Council to creative Scotland, I suggest that that change would have to offer public benefit, otherwise it would be a waste of time and money. If a pencil is blunt, sharpen it—one does not necessarily need a new one. However, sportscotland is a sharp organisation.

The Scottish Conservatives have made it quite clear that we do not want excessively bureaucratic quangos, but given that there is no widespread support—indeed, there is practically no support whatever—for replacing sportscotland with an unspecified organisation, where is the logic in doing so? The only logic is that the SNP pledged in its manifesto to abolish sportscotland. I hope that the SNP is big enough, with the benefit of hindsight, to alter that pledge today. That is especially important because, given that the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth games are coming up, we have so many other priorities, not least in encouraging more of our young people to participate in all kinds of sport.

The previous Executive failed to deliver on many of the sport 21 targets. Instead of abolishing sportscotland, the new Government would be better placed telling us how it intends to improve delivery on the proposals in "Reaching Higher". There might be ways in which sportscotland can become a leaner, meaner machine. However, abolishing the expertise that has built up, which has coincided with a successful period for Scottish sport, and replacing sportscotland with an as yet undefined organisation, which might mean that sports policy is centralised within the Scottish civil service, is simply not what our grass-roots sports organisations want.

Members will have noticed that the SNP amendment does not mention the abolition of sportscotland. If the SNP had made it plain that rather than abolish sportscotland it wanted to improve it, we might have been able to support its amendment. However, if the SNP is going to remain dangling from its own petard, given its manifesto pledge, I do not see how we can support its amendment.

Perhaps the minister has reflected on the overdogmatic abolition pledge in the manifesto and lightened up his attitude. If he continues to reflect, we might be able to reflect with him. However, if ministers lose the vote tonight, as seems likely, they will have to shoulder the blame, because they have simply not made the case for the abolition of sportscotland and they have not taken with them the Scottish sporting community, which is united in opposing sportscotland's abolition.

I hope that the current review will take heed of the debate and the vote, and ensure that we focus on what really matters: encouraging our youngsters to experience the pleasure of sport and providing the best possible support for our sportsmen and sportswomen.

I move amendment S3M-1018.1, to insert after first "sportscotland":

"without prejudice to any proposals which may improve the performance of that body".

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 9:34, 13 December 2007

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. The future of sportscotland is important in itself, but it is also critical in showing how the Executive conducts its business.

We in the Labour Party take the view that we need stability in sport at this stage. We recognise the important role of sportscotland in a range of areas, including the one that Children 1st highlighted in its briefing on child protection.

Others will talk in more detail about the role of sportscotland, but I want to focus on the process of parliamentary and external engagement. Like any good historian, I intend to refer to primary sources—the words of the minister himself.

On 1 November, in response to a question from Margo MacDonald, the First Minister acknowledged that there was an interesting judgment to be made about where certain functions should lie. There was a case for agencies to take responsibility in some circumstances and for the Government to take over responsibilities in other circumstances. That is why he said that the Government was consulting on the proposal. I asked whether the First Minister would ensure that the consultation was real. He blithely replied:

"The Minister for Communities ... has already made that commitment ... Of course, a full consultation is being carried out, and the minister needs no encouragement from me to make such a commitment."—[Official Report, 1 November 2007; c 2984.]

I did not wish to be harsh in my expectations of what the consultation might be, so I checked with a credible source—the Scottish Government's website, which said:

"Typically consultations involve a written paper inviting answers to specific questions or more general views about the material presented. Written papers are distributed to organisations and individuals with an interest in the area of consultation, and they are also posted under the current consultations section of this website, enabling a wider audience to access the paper and submit their responses."

Fine. Off I went to see what was posted. I did a search, and the result was:

"Sorry no results found that match your query 'future of sportscotland'."

I then thought that I should try the minister, so I sought information through a series of parliamentary questions. Could the responses to his correspondence be published? No, that would be inappropriate. Could his letters to organisations that he consulted be published? No, that would be inappropriate. Could he perhaps publish an analysis of the responses before a decision was made? No.

One wonders what the minister had to hide. That bizarre reticence was explained in an answer to Patricia Ferguson on 26 November, which said:

"The review ... is not a public consultation" and that the Government would seek permission to publish responses

"once the outcome of the review has been announced."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 26 November 2007; S3W-6487.]

Perhaps someone should advise the First Minister that his confidence that his minister needed no encouragement to have a full consultation was a touch misplaced.

Stewart Maxwell might have been right when he said initially that the review was internal—but then again, perhaps not. In evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee, planning officials outlined the workings of Scottish planning policy 11, which gives sportscotland a critical role. They confirmed that the planning directorate had not been consulted and that, even if sportscotland went,

"we would expect the function of getting clear advice from some expert authority on particular proposals to remain."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 21 November 2007; c 248.]

Even if sportscotland went, we would need another body to meet important planning needs in our communities. No sense of decluttering would be felt and duplication would not be removed. Perhaps that is why the minister did not have the confidence to consult his planning officials.

For those who are finding it hard to keep up, I will recap. We have a commitment to a full consultation, but the consultation is not public and is clearly not full. We have an internal review that does not obviously involve internal consultation. We do not know what was asked in correspondence or what the replies were. We know that several important sport and community organisations and equality groups such as Children 1st were not consulted, and that the public cannot participate in the consultation. We do not know what would happen to sportscotland's key functions, because the minister says:

"Until the outcome of the review is known I am unable to comment on who would be responsible for specific areas of sportscotland's work."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 14 November 2007; S3W-6017.]

Call me old-fashioned, but I would have thought that dealing with that was the consultation's role.

I regret that I do not have time to say everything that I wanted to, but I will make one more point. The minister is the Humpty Dumpty of the Scottish Parliament—words mean what he wants them to mean. I hope that he will listen to the Parliament's will today, and I look forward to his having the grace to announce a proper timetable to discuss sportscotland's future and the courage to ask genuine questions about the genuine options that are available.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 9:39, 13 December 2007

In the past couple of years, I have spoken in the chamber and elsewhere of my desire to keep sportscotland in west Edinburgh. As the Liberal Democrat constituency member for that area, I will today speak of my desire to keep sportscotland—full stop.

Every one of us should be driven by the desire to do what is in Scottish sport's best interests. The Parliament's job is to develop and support sport, and not only for the relatively few high-performance athletes who will be lucky enough to compete for medals in the Commonwealth games, the world championships or the Olympics. It is also essential that we support sport at the grass roots and that we use sport in its widest sense to improve our country's health and well-being. Sportscotland is central to that vision of sport for all. That vision resulted in a commitment of £102 million of additional support for sport in our May manifesto.

I ask the Government two big questions. First, what is the problem? Secondly, what will the Government put in sportscotland's place? We have not heard answers to either of those questions. The answer that the Government will scale back sportscotland shows not only a lack of vision, but a complete and utter lack of clarity. Without the answers, we cannot tell whether any alternative would bring greater efficiencies, be more effective or be any cheaper to the public purse.

The budget line still stands for sportscotland until 2011, so the money is available. If that money were chopped up among 32 local authorities, 76 national sporting bodies, a bunch of civil servants ensconced in Victoria Quay at the command of ministers, a separate body to distribute lottery funding and a separate body to consider planning decisions, it would be at least debatable whether the SNP could come up with a proposal that was as cost effective as the current arrangements.

I have met sportscotland's management and I know that they are happy to consider ways of streamlining the agency. The agency is not setting its face against change; it wants to look forward to a successful future—a golden future for all who are involved in Scottish sport. I fail to understand the logic of dismantling the national body for sport at such a critical time for Scottish sport, in the lead-up to the Olympics and the Commonwealth games. Those events, not dismantling and disrupting the national sports body, should be our focus.

It has been said before, and I argue, that if we did not have sportscotland, we would have to invent it, for several reasons. Its position is unique. It works with a range of partners, from central and local government to local sports clubs and national bodies. It has a national role of working with others to develop and deliver national policies and standards, for example in coach education. It provides a national voice for sport. It operates independently of the Government and, in its role as adviser, it sometimes tells the Government unpleasant home truths—members may remember reading the report about sports facilities provision a year or two ago; I see Patricia Ferguson nodding.

Because sportscotland exists, we know that national sports priorities are more likely to be delivered and that access to sports throughout Scotland is greater, which is particularly important in safeguarding minor sports. Funding sport is not a statutory requirement for councils. If we want to safeguard the future of sport, we cannot put it in the same local authority funding package as schools and social work services and expect it to come out unscathed.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No, I want to make progress.

The Scottish Government says that it wants to cut out duplication. Sportscotland helps to streamline funding support for athletes and organisations. It distributes not only Government funds but lottery funding, which local and central Government cannot legally distribute. That simplified and integrated system is easier for people to use, and it means that athletes and sporting bodies can concentrate on what they are meant to do, and that sportscotland can make the best use of the money that is at its disposal to build sporting strategy and put significant funding into national and local facilities.

Sportscotland is a crucial partner of local authorities. It assists them with specialist advice and hands-on support. It is a statutory consultee on planning decisions about playing fields while, at least currently—although goodness knows what the Government will do on planning in the future—councils and central Government do not have that role.

The agency also has a unique role in delivering practical backroom assistance to more than 40 of Scotland's 76 national sporting bodies. It fulfils a range of functions, from direct administration support for payroll services and information technology to long-term facilities planning, marketing, workforce development and coaching. All that support means that our individual sporting bodies can concentrate on getting on with their jobs.

I pay tribute to sportscotland staff for their hard work. They have had to live through a great period of uncertainty about a possible relocation, and now they face an even greater threat. That is having an impact on recruitment, morale and staff retention.

This is not the time to dismantle sportscotland. This is the time to get behind Scotland's sportsmen, sportswomen and children to deliver a better and healthier sporting future for our country. I hope that the Parliament will do that today.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 9:44, 13 December 2007

I welcome the debate, but I confess that I am somewhat surprised that the Lib Dems have the nerve to hold a debate on sport, given that they are one of the parties that have in effect ignored the need for change in Scottish sport for the past eight years. In that time, they showed that they like to talk the talk of sport but that, when it comes to delivering, they certainly do not walk the walk.

The Lib Dems are trying to portray themselves as the saviours of Scottish sport, but let us look at the legacy of their period in office. The Liberal Democrats are one of the parties that left us a national sporting agency with an increasing level of bureaucracy that is consuming the money that should be going to front-line sport. They are one of the parties that were responsible, along with sportscotland, for the implementation of sport 21, in which many of the key targets were not achieved. On top of that, in some areas there was deterioration from the starting baseline.

The Liberal Democrats are one of the parties that introduced a national and regional sports facilities strategy. So far, not one of those facilities has opened its doors to the public, although movement is now being made under this Government. They are one of the parties that left us with a deficit of £2.1 billion in lack of investment in our existing sports facilities—a legacy of failure.

On the other side of the chamber we have the Labour Party, whose Government at Westminster wants to remove £13 million from sports lottery funding in Scotland—money that is meant to go to grass-roots sports. Labour and Liberal Democrat members have a brass neck in trying to portray themselves this morning as the saviours of sport in Scotland. For the past eight years, successive sports ministers—including you, Ms Ferguson—have hidden behind sportscotland when it has made difficult decisions. You evaded accountability on such issues and ducked out of making difficult decisions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We have already heard from you.

Patricia Ferguson was meant to establish a review of sportscotland, but she failed to do so. She ducked out of that, because she did not have the bottle or commitment to deliver on it.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As sports minister, you had years to do something, but I am afraid that you failed dreadfully. We do not need to hear any more from you.

The review provides us with a real opportunity to change things for the better, because its underlying principle is to ensure that we improve on the mediocrity that we have inherited from the previous Administration and that we get the right infrastructure in place to deliver for Scottish sport. I am aware that some people in sport are anxious about the possibility of change. Whenever change comes along, it is inevitable that people are concerned about its implications. However, I could not disagree more with those who say that we should just continue with the status quo because the Commonwealth games are coming along. Now is the time to get the system right. We should not wait until 2014 before realising that we should have changed it seven years previously.

We need a new approach that reduces the bureaucracy that we inherited from the previous Administration, that takes sport forward and that ensures that those who are involved in sport have a clear voice on and direct line into the policy direction that is taken. Those who oppose any change to sportscotland are settling for the mediocrity that we had for the past eight to 10 years under their Administration. We need to move forward. We should support the minister's amendment so that we can change sport in Scotland for the better and for the future.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I remind all members that during their speeches they should not speak directly to other members across the chamber. They should always speak through the chair and refer to other members in the third person. I do not know for how long I will have to keep going on about the issue, but I will do so for as long as is necessary.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 9:48, 13 December 2007

On 9 November, Scotland celebrated when Mike Fennell, the president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, announced that Glasgow would host the 2014 Commonwealth games. Scotland was right to celebrate, because we all know that statistics show that host nations do better than others in the medal tally. We also know that host nations enjoy a boost in their international reputation and can enjoy a renewed feeling of self-confidence. However, if we as a nation are to reap the benefits and legacy of 2014, we will have to work hard and co-operatively over the next seven years. Our young people, in particular, stand to benefit from the games and from all the opportunities that will be available to be involved.

To be frank, I entered this morning's debate with a feeling more of sorrow than of anger. Sport gains most from a Commonwealth games, and sport must be our priority as we take the games forward. Today our question must be, how can we do that if the organisation that takes sport forward on behalf of the Government and which offers so many services to sports governing bodies is abolished or emasculated? Who will work with sports governing bodies to encourage them to aim higher? Who will ensure that there is support for our young people, who share our ambitions? At a time when we are united in our support for and encouragement of sport, it is particularly sad that we must have this debate.

I welcome the fact that, as his amendment indicates, the minister has decided at long last that there will be a debate on the review that he has initiated, but that is too little, too late. We are debating the matter today; I would like the minister to indicate whether he will abide by the will of Parliament, as expressed today. Will he listen to what MSPs around the chamber say? Will he take that as our contribution to his internal review—the much-vaunted consultation to which none of us has had the opportunity to input?

The Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture was quite right recently to reiterate her support for creative Scotland. However, there is a question that must be asked about that: what is the difference between the position of creative Scotland and that of sportscotland? Creative Scotland will support the arts in Scotland and those organisations that deliver on the ground. It will also support our cultural co-ordinators programme and the work of Government, and provide lottery funding on behalf of the lottery distributors. What does sportscotland do? It supports sports governing bodies, encourages participation in sport in our communities and distributes lottery funding. Why will we save creative Scotland but abolish sportscotland? Why is the Government's agenda skewed in that way?

Why, when I asked the minister whether he had consulted the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland, did he tell me that Louise Martin, the then chair of the council, was a member of the board of sportscotland? I have news for the minister—she is not. It is unacceptable that the council had to volunteer a response to the minister, instead of being asked to give its views.

I am intrigued by the fact that, in response to a written question from me, the minister indicated that there had been consultation with the university of sport. As far as I am aware, the university of sport exists only in the Labour Party manifesto and has not been delivered since May. I am delighted that the minister thinks that it is important enough to consult, but I wonder how he managed to do that, given that it does not exist.

I will close, as I am conscious of the time. Before doing so, I draw the minister's attention to another Labour manifesto commitment—to designate 2014 as the year of sport, in recognition of our ambition for sport and of the opportunities that Scots and people internationally will have to enjoy sport that is hosted in this country. Will the minister designate 2014 as a year of sport and work as hard as we would have worked to make it a success?

Finally, I say to the minister, as I had to say to the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism a few weeks ago, that he should resist the temptation to make change just because he can.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party 9:53, 13 December 2007

The irony behind the motion is galling. The Lib Dems, who have an awful record of supporting sport while in power, are criticising the new SNP Government for trying to clean up their legacy.

The Lib Dems have the cheek to note in their motion

"the importance of grass-roots sport and the opportunities that currently exist to increase sporting participation", but when they were running Inverclyde Council over the past four years, they decided to build a secondary school, using public-private partnership funding, on the site of football pitches. Regrettably, the Inverclyde population is receiving a double whammy—the vast cost implications of PPP and the loss of football pitches to the local community.

Unfortunately, the Lib Dems are not alone in that respect. Four years ago, Renfrewshire Council, which was then Labour run, commissioned a report on the Apex centre in Paisley and was told that the centre needed £400,000-worth of urgent repairs. The council refused to invest in the centre, which is now so dilapidated that repairing it would cost £1 million. It is therefore now recommended that the centre should be closed. That is a prime example of Labour investment in community and sporting facilities. The most important obstacle to participation levels in sport in Scotland is a lack of quality facilities. It is well understood that our climate is not akin to that of Australia, which means that it may be difficult for us to encourage some outdoor activities. That emphasises the need for top-notch facilities.

The new generation of artificial grass offers an ideal remedy to the problems of traditional pitches, which are expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Such pitches have restricted use, and tend to be less playable in the winter, particularly in the west of Scotland. Statistically, natural grass pitches can be used for 150 to 200 hours a year. Third-generation pitches, by comparison, cost roughly the same to construct, are significantly cheaper to maintain, and can be used for 2,000 to 2,500 hours a year. The advances in artificial grass technology—which gives more usage, especially in bad weather—provide the opportunity for a dramatic increase in sport participation, particularly in our nation's top two sports of football and rugby.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Presumably the member was proud to stand on the SNP manifesto commitment to abolish sportscotland. Is he still proud of that manifesto commitment?

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

As the minister said, a review is taking place at the moment.

My colleague Michael Matheson mentioned the 10 new regional sports facilities that were announced by the previous Administration in 2004. Three years later, not one of those facilities has opened its doors and only one has made it past the first stage of development. Under the Labour-Lib Dem Executive, the Tories, and London Labour, the number of public sports pitches fell dramatically—130 pitches have been lost since 1996.

The previous Administration left Scotland in a poor position for sporting facilities. The SNP has been left with that mess, but in our short time in power we have already begun taking steps to sort things out. In the past week, the Minister for Communities and Sport has announced a £1.1 million investment in sports facilities throughout Scotland. That will include funding for projects in Aberdeen, Paisley, Peebles, Torridon, Scone, Loch Tummel, Stirling, Stornoway and Hawick. The Government has also announced its intention to create a sports facilities fund, whereby community sports clubs can bid for money to improve facilities, provided that those facilities can be used by the whole community.

Unlike the previous Administration, the Government understands the importance of providing Scotland's people with quality facilities. It is therefore vital that money is distributed to support those facilities. That is why I am glad that the SNP Government has started to take the necessary steps. I urge members to reject the Lib Dem motion and to back the Government amendment.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 9:58, 13 December 2007

I apologise to Ross Finnie for failing to be here for the start of his speech. In mitigation, I would plead that I was speaking to a man about setting up more than 35 sports in Edinburgh—that was what kept me.

This is sportscotland's mission statement:

"Our mission is to encourage everyone in Scotland to discover and develop their own sporting experience, helping to increase participation and improve performances in Scottish sport."

In 2003, my colleague Peter Warren and I went to the annual general meeting of sportscotland. We were not impressed. Contrary to the sentiments in the mission statement, the emphasis in 2003 was on improving the performance of elite athletes. There was little understanding or sympathy for the people sitting up the back, who provide the underpinning for the production of elite medal winners and keep the structure of sport in Scotland in place—the coaches, the club officials, the family members and other volunteers. When Peter and I left the AGM, we were surrounded by the representatives of smaller sporting organisations and clubs for sports such as badminton, boxing and water sports. They were concerned about the thread that had run through the AGM, which was the relevance of the so-called minority sports and local clubs in plans for greater sporting glory in track and field and in the biggest team sports, which of course are rugby and football.

The skewed emphasis on the elite athletes has now gone, and sportscotland is fulfilling its function, as outlined in the mission statement. That is not just what it says; it is what it does. I have a lot of sympathy with Michael Matheson—he and I usually agree on such matters—but he must accept that sportscotland has mended its ways. We talk about sinners who repent—I am sure that, as a good Christian gentleman, he would agree.

Sportscotland has done things at local level. For example, in Stevenson, a lottery grant went to the Evolution skate park. Sportscotland helped to get the club organised and to develop a supervision and activity programme. Active membership grew to 1,500, and 250 women go each week—previously it was five. In Kinross, sportscotland was approached by a community group that wanted a swimming pool. Sportscotland did the research and advised the group about moveable floors, which mean that handicapped swimmers can take part.

Sportscotland is doing the practical business for which it was put in place. It is linking extremely well with the Scottish Institute of Sport, and we are beginning to see the results, including improved performance by elite athletes. I doubt that we could devise a better way to improve our national health indices and to widen and deepen the pool of potential champions than by persuading by example and providing facilities such as those that I have mentioned, by joining up the schools and club sport, and by expanding the number of qualified coaches. Those are the activities that win medals—the medals come only when enough people are taking part. Sportscotland has switched its emphasis to that. Although there is money involved and the Government will want to consult more about how that money is dispensed, I urge the Government to support sportscotland.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 10:02, 13 December 2007

Ross Finnie's motion talks about

"the importance of grass-roots sport and the opportunities that currently exist to increase sporting participation and enhance sporting performance, particularly among young people, in Scotland as we look forward to the London Olympics of 2012 and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games of 2014".

When Margaret Smith talked about the unpleasant news that had been given to her by sportscotland, I presume that she meant the £2 billion of underfunding by successive Governments. The SNP has had to pick up that mess.

Setting aside for the moment the enormous cheek of the motion in the light of Ross Finnie's Administration's calamitous record as a custodian of sport in Scotland—the gross neglect of facilities, the huge loss of public sports pitches and the regional sports facilities that never opened and which the SNP are only now getting on the road—it is necessary to point to evidence that was given by Julia Bracewell, the chair of sportscotland, to the Health and Sport Committee. Before she unreservedly accepted the easy link between sporting excellence and participation in grass-roots sport that Mr Finnie implies, Ms Bracewell told the committee:

"Every nation that has hosted an Olympic games has seen its elite athletes perform better at those games. If you ask whether any games have helped to increase participation in sport, the academics will say no". —[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 21 November 2007; c 253.]

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I hope that the member recognises that sportscotland and the previous Scottish Administration appreciated that very point, which was what was going to be different about the 2014 Commonwealth games. Take away sportscotland, and that is put in jeopardy.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

That is the point I am coming to.

We are asking our sporting infrastructure not just for a platform that will ensure that our athletes perform well in 2014. We are asking it to do what no nation has ever done before, namely to build on that sporting success so that people—young or old, obese or lazy—get off their couches and take exercise that will not only enhance their lives but enable them to stay healthier and live longer than would otherwise be the case. That is a tall order, which can be achieved only if we make certain over the next few months that the infrastructure is in perfect health, lean and fit for purpose.

In the budget review group's evidence to the Health and Sport Committee in October, we heard disconcerting news that there was indirect spend on the Scottish Institute of Sport.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am confused, because no SNP member has stated this morning why the party's manifesto promise to abolish sportscotland has turned into a review. Does the member admit that the SNP was wrong?

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I will come to that point later in my speech, but I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Purvis on the fantastic beard that he has grown; I assume that he has been seeing Mary Scanlon for her bog myrtle cream.

The budget review group said in evidence to the Health and Sport Committee:

"We highlighted the difficulty that we had in finding what outcomes were looked for across all the portfolios ... there were far too many priorities".

"We did not get back from the Executive any evidence to suggest that the institute had been the subject of a rigorous review".

"What is the outcome that we are looking for with regard to sport?" "Quite often, we found that the staff who were responsible for major budgets had not been trained properly".—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 3 October 2007; c 121, 120, 121, 122.]

The Howat report mentions

"a worrying trend of reduced participation" and says that the budget review group is concerned that there is

"no objective basis on which to measure sportscotland's performance."

When the SNP first looked at sportscotland, it seemed to be an organisation that had to be abolished because it was not fit for purpose. Having looked further, it is quite obvious that the appalling political management of the organisation in the past means that a review is necessary at this time.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 10:06, 13 December 2007

This has been a good debate, which has given us an excellent opportunity to celebrate sport in Scotland and to look to its future. Sport and young people make a positive contribution to our society and to the sporting successes of our nation. It is crucial for the future of sport in this country that it be effectively governed, funded and co-ordinated.

This morning, we have heard some cogent arguments about why sportscotland should be allowed to continue to play its role. I hope that the minister will accept that he is on the losing side and agree that, although sportscotland might need some improvement, it certainly does not need to be abolished. As Jamie McGrigor stated, Scottish Conservatives totally reject the notion of abolishing sportscotland; the organisation is popular, it delivers much-needed and highly regarded expertise in effective partnerships to assist sports governing bodies in developing sport across Scotland, and it effectively integrates the investment of resources in Scottish sport.

The 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth games give Scotland a unique opportunity to build a great sporting legacy. Vitally, that legacy must be felt in every community the length and breadth of Scotland, and that is where sportscotland can play a leading role. It is notable that whenever national sporting events take place, we see our young people respond, often by taking to the streets or the local park to try out sports such as tennis, football, rugby, and, going by last weekend, even boxing.

I acknowledge the role that is played by Scotland's sports governing bodies in encouraging and nurturing young people who are interested in their respective sports. Specifically, I mention the work of the Scottish Rugby Union in developing a coaching network. Scottish rugby runs many coaching courses that are aimed at people at all levels of the game, and it is trying to ensure that every player, from mini to adult, has the opportunity to develop their full potential by receiving training from qualified, up-to-date coaches who are continually seeking to improve their coaching skills and knowledge. Sportscotland has played a pivotal role in developing that framework and, in partnership with the many local authorities that have a dedicated coaching officer, it is providing the sport that our young sporting talents of the future need to develop.

As Margo MacDonald rightly said, the Scottish Institute of Sport has been successful in helping Scotland's elite athletes to achieve success.

To lose a structure such as sportscotland would be quite wrong and clearly not what our grass-roots sporting organisations want. Every MSP knows of significant investments that have been made by sportscotland in their constituency, and it is vital that that body continues to work towards giving everyone access to high-quality sports facilities.

In my region, Aberdeen City Council recently received a sportscotland investment of £450,000 to assist with pavilion and pitch development at Hazelhead. This year alone will see sportscotland's total investment in sports facilities reach £18.2 million.

I emphasise the importance of the proposed new 50m swimming pool in Aberdeen to the development of tomorrow's young swimming stars from north of the central belt. I hope that the minister is fully aware how important it is that he gives early commitment to that exciting project.

The ability of sportscotland to integrate the investment of resources in sport, the effective partnerships that it has built up, and the expertise that it has developed in assisting Scottish sports governing bodies are recognised by all sports organisations in Scotland. They all support sportscotland and, like us, they do not see a case for its abolition.

We support the retention of sportscotland, therefore if our amendment is accepted we will support the Liberal Democrats' motion at decision time. We hope that ministers will pay heed to today's important debate, and listen to the many voices throughout Scotland that are united in opposing sportscotland's abolition.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 10:11, 13 December 2007

It is regrettable that we are debating an issue on which we have had very little, if any, proper consultation. I listened with interest to my colleague Johann Lamont; in the words of my mother, she gave the minister a really good skelping for his behaviour during the past six months.

Government members have given us a series of interventions and speeches that are loud in rhetoric but which do not address any of the central points of the Liberal Democrats' motion. The motion raises a number of questions, and the Parliament's role is to interrogate the Government and ministers and identify the best way forward.

I believe that there is unanimity in the chamber that sport will be important during the next decade, and it is not enough for members to use this debate to claim that the previous Executive made no contribution to the Scottish sporting agenda. The previous Executive made the brave decision to go for the Commonwealth games. The previous Executive spoke about national and regional sports facilities, and at least tried to identify ways in which we can use activity and sport to tackle problems in communities across Scotland.

I will take no lectures from the Government about our commitment to sport when we were in government, or even as ordinary members representing our constituencies. At the end of the next 10 years, I will have in my area a new national arena and velodrome, a new pool at Tollcross, a national hockey centre at Glasgow Green, and, at the boundary of my constituency, the national football centre. That is not bad going for one member, and those developments will be in the commitments that I give during election campaigns.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

We have heard enough from Mr McKee, who made a wonderful but rather quaint speech.

What do we want to do about sport in Scotland? The minister has a chance. He said that sport is a priority and that we are debating it in the Parliament because the Government has made it a priority. However, the Liberal Democrats lodged the motion for today's debate because the minister would not answer any questions on specific issues. If the Parliament votes today as I anticipate that it will, what will your position be? You have already shifted your position.

This morning, I woke up to wonderful news of a

"Reprieve for national sports body" on "BBC News 24". However, if members read about it online they will see that there is more to it than the headline suggests.

The point is, minister, that you have shifted your position. You were going to come to the Parliament in December and tell us what you were going to do; now you will do that in January.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Please speak through the chair, Mr McAveety.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

It is a dog's breakfast and a testimony to failure. The first 100 days of this Administration were not about sorting out the future of sportscotland; instead, there was a discussion about whether Scotland should have a national Olympics team. That was the minister's priority during the first 100 days.

Obviously, I am a great reader and I have been reading "Waiting for Godot", which is a wonderful read. Vladimir says:

"Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! ... Let us do something, while we have the chance!"

I agree. He goes on:

"It is not every day that we are needed ... But at this place, at this moment of time ... whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!"

It is not too late for the minister to change his mind on the abolition of sportscotland. The SNP has dumped every other major manifesto commitment, but if this one was to be dumped the minister would get unanimous support and he would be able to speak for Scotland; he could even wrap himself in a saltire and speak for Scotland. He needs to make the right decision for sport and retain sportscotland so that we can have a decade in which everyone can share the joy.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 10:15, 13 December 2007

The debate has given me the opportunity to listen to Parliament's views on the review of sportscotland and the future needs and delivery structure for sport in Scotland, both for our young people and for our elite performers. We remain committed to reducing the number of public bodies in Scotland. Our aim is to create a simpler and more effective public sector in Scotland.

Having listened with interest to the points that have been raised in today's debate, I assure members that the needs of sport continue to remain central to our decision-making process. We have continually engaged with our key sporting stakeholders to ensure that their views are taken into account and fed into the review process on the future of sportscotland.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

Will the minister please concede that it is disingenuous to claim that the review is objective if the question put was, "Why should we abolish sportscotland?"

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

As the member should be well aware—I am surprised that he is not—that was not the question that was put. The remit of the review, I am afraid, was published. It was sent to the Health and Sport Committee, whose members all have a copy of it. The remit of the review is clearly on the record. That question was not asked in the review.

I reconfirm to Parliament, as I did in my opening speech, our commitment to announcing the outcome of the review in early January. However, discussions will not stop when the decision is announced. Involving key stakeholders in any change during the implementation process will be critical. We are committed to an on-going process of involvement with key stakeholders.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

As a matter of logic, would it not be sensible to consult people before making a decision rather than afterwards?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I apologise if the member has not been listening today—or for several months—but we have been consulting a whole range of stakeholders. As I said at the beginning of the debate, I know that it hurts that Labour members lost the election and that they are not involved in the process, but the fact of the matter—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The fact is that we are consulting sports stakeholders on the future for sport in Scotland. Now is the appropriate time to do that because we have seven years before the 2014 games in which to build for that legacy. We will do that.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Will the minister confirm that a growing number of those stakeholders are in favour of retaining sportscotland?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

As I said in my opening speech, in response to an intervention from Jamie McGrigor, the opinions of stakeholders range from retention to abolition. Some are clearly of the view that they wish sportscotland to be retained, but many others can see the purpose of change, and some have said that sportscotland should be abolished.

It is paramount that a decision on the future of sportscotland delivers for all who participate in sport, from the grass roots to the elite. It must deliver for those who participate for fun as well as those who aspire to international sporting success. It must also deliver for the volunteers, coaches and governing bodies of sport—those who really deliver sport on the ground. The prospect of the London 2012 Olympic games and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth games creates a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a step change in how sport is delivered and in the impact that it has on Scottish life as a whole.

Having listened to a range of speeches from members across the chamber, I must point out that we need to recognise the current problems with delivery for sport. Things are not perfect, despite what the Lib Dems and Labour Party try to say. The motion states that sportscotland must remain, but it makes no mention of room for improvement. There are issues that need to be reviewed. In fact, a review of sportscotland was due a number of years ago, but the previous Administration utterly failed to carry that out. It is quite correct that we are carrying out a review.

In the debate, members have deliberately mixed up two different things. It is important that the delivery of sport by staff and experts is retained, but some members have mixed that up with the administrative structures that provide that necessary expertise and delivery. We absolutely support the experts and the staff in the delivery of sport, but we feel that the current structures are wrong. For example, Margaret Smith gave a speech of utter speculation that was based on nothing but personal opinions and was not based on any facts whatsoever—

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

As Michael Matheson said, we received a poor inheritance, given the £2 billion hole in investment in facilities. Responsibility for that lies with members on the former Administration's benches.

The Scottish Government's vision for sport is that every citizen should be physically active and able to enjoy first-class facilities to achieve their potential. We are confident that the outcome of the review will deliver a simpler, less bureaucratic structure that will provide sport with what it needs and what it has asked for. That will ensure that we can deliver our vision for sport in Scotland.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat 10:20, 13 December 2007

I have a great deal of respect for Stewart Maxwell, whom I believe to be an honourable and honest man, but he helps neither his nor his party's credibility today in trying to defend the indefensible. I have spoken with the minister both publicly and privately about sportscotland. I get the strong impression that he is quite uncomfortable with that part of the SNP's manifesto.

The minister and his colleagues insist on backing their manifesto pledge to scrap sportscotland but, as we have heard from many members—including Ross Finnie, Jamie McGrigor and Johann Lamont—scrapping sportscotland would be a retrograde step at a time when Scotland needs its expertise, knowledge and professionalism like never before.

As Frank McAveety, Nanette Milne and many others have said, sportscotland now performs a multitude of tasks very ably under the direction of Stewart Harris. I do not know how long ago SNP members dreamt up their bonfire of the quangos, but they must have been sleepwalking not to have noticed how much sportscotland has improved over the past few years with Mr Harris at the helm. He has turned sportscotland round from being a poorly performing body to—as Margo MacDonald acknowledged—one that ranks among the best in Scotland today.

Not only the Liberal Democrats but Labour and the Conservatives want sportscotland to be retained. Despite being given numerous chances to do so, neither the minister nor his Government have been able to provide a single persuasive argument as to why sportscotland should be scrapped, far less explain what they would replace it with and what could possibly be more efficient. One lesson that the Government has failed to learn in its short Administration is that it would have much more credibility if it just admitted that it was wrong sooner rather than later. Rather than work with sportscotland as a partner, the SNP has damned the organisation at every turn, despite the fact that sportscotland is already delivering on the SNP Administration's key policy objectives in "Reaching Higher", which is the new national strategy for sports policy.

Not just we politicians but many eminent people outwith the Parliament say that the Government is wrong. For instance, Tim Dent, who is the director of a sport and leisure consultancy, and Chris Robison, who is the policy director of the Scottish Sports Association, which represents the interests of some 50 governing bodies, have both condemned the Government's stance on sportscotland.

As the central agency with the remit that reaches across the key areas of people, organisations and facilities, only sportscotland can ensure that we have a balanced infrastructure by analysing and supporting strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, sportscotland adds value by being able to make strategic investments and by having an overview of identified priorities at local, regional and national levels—including the new indoor running track in my constituency that I will officially open next week.

To summarise, sportscotland is doing a good job at attracting people to, and encouraging excellence in, sport in Scotland. That point is not lost on any of us who want Scotland's sporting stars to achieve medal-winning performances in London and Glasgow. The Government's insistence on implementing one of its key manifesto pledges is simply farcical. The interests of Scottish sport simply cannot be best served in those circumstances.

The Liberal Democrats are quite happy to accept the Conservative amendment. All that we need from the minister and his colleagues is a little humility, compassion and common sense and for them to realise that not only every Opposition party but the whole country is against them on this issue. The sooner they back down, the less damage will be done to their own credibility, to sportscotland and—more important—to our young generation of sportspeople who will be the stars of the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow.