Engagements

– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th May 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

2. To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the week. (S5F-01267)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

Yesterday, the First Minister and I met Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox. At that meeting, the First Minister—rightly—agreed that there is no place for abuse of any kind in our political debate.

A few weeks ago, a prominent internet blogger said of Oliver Mundell, a member of this Parliament, that he

“is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish that his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.”

Does the First Minister agree that there is absolutely no place in society for homophobia like that?

The First Minister:

Of course I do. It is deeply unfortunate for Kezia Dugdale to get up in here and suggest that I would condone homophobia in any way, shape or form. On such issues—it was the kind of issue that we all discussed with Brendan Cox yesterday—we should all make it very clear that that kind of language and any form of abuse of any minority, or of any politician, are completely unacceptable. Daily, I see abuse being hurled at me, at my colleagues and at people on my side of the political spectrum, but I do not hold Kezia Dugdale personally responsible for that. We should all join together and say that that kind of abuse is unacceptable, and at least have that as an issue on which we have consensus and not division.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

I very much welcome that response from the First Minister. The remark that I am referring to was posted on Twitter by Stuart Campbell, who writes for the website “Wings Over Scotland”. In the

Daily Record

, I called out Mr Campbell for his homophobic comments—[

Interruption

.]

Members should listen if they are serious about tackling homophobia and abuse in all its forms. Mr Campbell has written to me via his lawyer to demand a £10,000 payment for “damage to reputation”. I stand firmly by my comment: I have never kowtowed to a bully, and I will not start today. There is a catalogue of evidence that demonstrates the bile that Stuart Campbell appears to believe is acceptable. Given that we are in a general election campaign, will the First Minister condemn “Wings Over Scotland” and anyone else who poisons the political debate in our country?

The First Minister:

I have just condemned anybody who indulges in that kind of language or abuse. I am not responsible for Stuart Campbell any more than Kezia Dugdale is responsible for people who hurl abuse at me in the name of their being supporters of the Labour Party.

Let us cut to the chase about what is going on here. Kezia Dugdale is asking me about this today because she hopes that it means I will not be able to remind her that her colleagues in Aberdeen City Council voted for a Tory administration there yesterday. What we are seeing here is bit of a political smokescreen, so let me put it beyond any doubt: I condemn anybody who hurls abuse on social media or anywhere else. All of us should do that. The abuse that I see being directed at me daily would make people’s hair curl, and some of it comes from people who profess to be supporters of Kezia Dugdale’s party. I do not hold her personally responsible for that. We should all accept that there are people out there who will do that, and we should unite in condemning it.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

When my colleagues do something that I disagree with, I take action. I am asking the First Minister to do the same. The comment from “Wings Over Scotland” was published by an individual who not only distorts our political debate but regularly spouts hatred, yet SNP politicians continue to positively engage with him and to alert their followers to his beliefs. There are a few SNP politicians who have called him out, but 44 per cent of SNP MSPs and 50 per cent of SNP MPs have actively encouraged him along. I have the list here in my hand, and it includes 10 Government ministers—among them the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Minister for Transport and the Islands.

Social media can be a force for good, but as leaders we have a duty to stand up when it becomes an outlet for aggression, intolerance and hatred, so I want to ask the First Minister a clear yes or no question. Will she today order her politicians and her ministers to denounce and shun “Wings Over Scotland” once and for all?

The First Minister:

I follow thousands of people on Twitter, and I am followed by hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter. Is Kezia Dugdale really saying that, if I was to go through her tweets or the tweets of members of her group or members of her party and found retweets that were in some way unsavoury, she would hold herself personally responsible for that? This is an absolutely ridiculous line of questioning.

I unequivocally condemn abuse of any kind. I have here a list of abuse that has been hurled at me by many people who are now Tory councillors in Scotland. I have had abuse from people who are members of the Labour Party. I have been called a fascist and a Nazi—or my party has—by Ian Smart, who was a senior member of the Labour Party, but I did not hold Kezia Dugdale responsible.

Let us cut to the chase. Kezia Dugdale is creating a smokescreen because her party is in disarray—it is in civil war and it is in meltdown. She is directing this line of questioning at me in order to hide the simple fact that the leader of the Scottish Labour Party is not in control of her own party and cannot stop her councillors going into coalition with Tories up and down the country. She is using her questions as a smokescreen to protect herself against the state of her own party.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

We will now have some constituency questions, the first of which will be asked by Graeme Dey.

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

Will the First Minister join me in welcoming the Government’s appeal victory against the judicial review judgment that blocked the development of offshore wind farms in the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay, which is good news for Scotland on the climate change, green energy and jobs fronts? Will she also join me in encouraging RSPB Scotland, which instigated the original action, to accept the appeal decision and resolve its concerns about seabirds by working with the developers on, for example, sympathetic siting of turbines?

The First Minister:

I very much welcome the judgment. I think that the development of offshore wind is important not just for environmental reasons, but for economic development reasons, so I hope that the judgment means that the developments in question can continue.

What happens now is for RSPB Scotland to decide. I certainly hope that we will see an end to the court action. However, I have another point to make, to which I hope the RSPB will listen. Protecting the environment is very important, and I know that that organisation has legitimate concerns about the developments. I say clearly to it and to others who have concerns that we want to ensure that we work in a way that allows the development of offshore wind, with all the benefits that it brings, and in which protection of the environment is paramount. I hope that we can move forward on that basis.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

The First Minister might be aware that an estate agency based in Edinburgh—McEwan Fraser Legal—is demanding a buyer’s premium fee on the sale of property. If prospective buyers do not agree to pay it, the property is offered to the next bidder who can pay it. Concerns about the practice have been raised with me by a constituent who has spent 12 years saving for his first flat and who is now expected to pay a buyer’s premium fee of £2,940 on a £130,000 flat.

Does the First Minister agree that the buyer’s premium fee is an example of unscrupulous, unethical, rent-seeking sharp practice by McEwan Fraser Legal? Will her Government look into the issue and assess the legality and morality of a practice that adds further costs to the process of buying a house? Does she agree that the subject matter of the Estate Agents Act 1979 should be devolved so that this Parliament has full powers over matters relating to the acquisition of land and property?

The First Minister:

I am happy to look further into that matter. I certainly agree with Andy Wightman that the powers in question should be devolved. Regulation of estate agents is currently reserved because it is covered by the consumer protection reservation in the Scotland Act 1998.

I absolutely agree that fees that are charged by estate agents should be completely transparent and clear. I understand that the Scottish Government has recently received one complaint about the charging of a buyer’s premium. I will make further inquiries about the point and the case that has been raised by Andy Wightman, and I will write to him on the matter once I have further information.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The First Minister will know that NHS Grampian announced this week that it can no longer guarantee surgery within 12 weeks of diagnosis—it is not in a position to meet the targets that she has set. Will her Government therefore step up to the plate and provide NHS Grampian with the funding that it should receive under the Government’s own NHS Scotland resource allocation committee formula, which is nearly 10 years old and has still not delivered that?

The First Minister:

We have moved health boards much closer to parity, as it is called, than they were when we took office. Under NRAC, which replaced the Arbuthnott formula, we continue to do that.

On the specific issue that Lewis Macdonald raised, we are clear with all health boards that patients who are waiting for treatment such as elective surgery must be seen as quickly as possible. It is important that patients with the highest clinical priority, such as cancer patients, are seen extremely quickly.

We are investing additional resources. We have also been working with NHS Grampian and other health boards on further investment, which we will announce soon. That investment will help boards to build up their capacity, and particularly their elective capacity, to make sure that all patients are treated in a timely fashion.

Waiting times in our health service are shorter than they were when the Government first took office, but demand on our health service continues to rise, mainly because of the ageing population, so we must continue to work with health boards and make sure that they have the resources that are required to continue to deliver the standard of service that patients deserve.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

My constituent Dr Kevin Parsons, who lives in Bearsden with his wife and two children, is due to be deported on 11 June. He is a University of Glasgow lecturer who has recently been awarded a £1.32 million research grant from the United Kingdom Government, which supports the employment of a further three people. The Home Office has repeatedly given Dr Parsons the wrong information, which has led to this personal crisis.

Dr Parsons is a Canadian national; his wife qualifies for UK citizenship and one of his children was born in the UK. Will the First Minister intervene and use her influence to assist in allowing Dr Parsons to remain here in Scotland and continue his valuable work?

The First Minister:

I do not know all the details of the case that Gil Paterson raises, but I would be happy to look into the details and to see whether the Scottish Government can do anything to appeal to the Home Office to see sense, if that is what is required.

From the details that he has shared with members today, the case that Gil Paterson has outlined seems to illustrate the complete wrong-headedness of the UK Government’s approach to immigration. As the Tories publish their manifesto today, we see a recommitment to an immigration target that they know is undeliverable. They also know that, in trying to deliver that target, they will do untold damage to not just the Scottish economy but the UK economy as a whole.

Today, we also see the Tories reportedly publishing proposals to increase the amount of money that employers have to pay if they want to employ skilled migrants from outside the European Union. As the British Medical Association has pointed out, that includes doctors, nurses and other people who work in our health service. Not only will it be harder to recruit people into the health service—and perhaps harder to recruit people from outside this country into the teaching profession—but our public services will be charged when they recruit people.

That sums up the fact that the UK is pursuing an immigration policy that is damaging to the country’s economy. The Tories are doing that as they increasingly morph into the UK Independence Party. That makes it all the more important that, after the general election, there are strong voices to stand up to the Tories and make sure that Scotland’s interests in this area, and in so many other areas, are properly protected.